Thursday, March 8, 2012

Poll: Americans reject attacks on public employees' rights

Give average Americans an opportunity to demonstrate their humanity and intelligence, and they'll take it.

Bloomberg News Service conducted the poll and is reporting its findings, so no one can argue that this is a liberal-biased poll.

A new Bloomberg News national poll finds that Americans believe, by a wide margin, that public sector workers should have the right to collectively bargain. 64 percent of respondents, including a plurality of Republicans, believe public workers should be able to bargain collectively for their wages, while 63 percent believe that states should not be able to break pension agreements they’ve already made. This, of course, comes after a number of Republican governors used budget woes to justify removing collective bargaining rights from public employees.

Just as educators and other public workers are being assaulted from all sides, thanks to zombie legislation drafted by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council and being revivified in states from Maine to Louisiana -- including the voucher-and-tax-deduction bill right here in South Carolina -- ordinary Americans are saying they side with the nation's rank-and-file working class.

It's a powerful and moving piece of news.

As battles rage between state workers and Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio, 63 percent don’t think states should be able to break their promises to retirees, and respondents split over whether governors aim to balance their budgets or weaken unions that back Democratic foes, according to the poll conducted March 4-7.

The poll shows that political challenges to government workers are failing to draw broad support from a public more concerned about unemployment than government deficits.

Overreach. That's what Americans are calling the actions of a far-right movement that took advantage of bad economic times to storm state houses across the nation in 2010, and immediately set to work dismantling the social fabric that it took the entire twentieth century to weave.

“The Republican Party sees an opportunity to attack and possibly destroy the base of their opponents’ political power,” says poll respondent Dale Palmer, 59, a Democrat and retired teacher from Zephyrhills, Florida.

Palmer says budget deficits are a result of the economy and years of tax cuts, not the actions of public employees. “They’re putting it now on the backs of their enemies even when these particular unions are willing to bargain,” he says.

That's the influence of blind and aggressive ideology, not pragmatic governance.

And here's the kicker:

Sixty-three percent of those surveyed -- including a majority of Democrats and independents -- say corporations wield more political clout than unions. Public employees, meanwhile, are viewed favorably by a large majority: 72 percent, compared with 17 percent who have an unfavorable view.

Government employees account for the majority of union members in the U.S. as a result of the long decline in manufacturing industries. In 2010, 7.6 million of the 14.7 million U.S. union members worked in the public sector, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Sixty-four percent of respondents, including a plurality of Republicans, say public employees should have the right to bargain collectively for their wages. Sixty-three percent, including 55 percent of Republicans, say states without enough money to pay for all the pension benefits they have promised to current retirees shouldn’t be able to break those obligations.

The awareness of the injustices being perpetrated on public employees is widespread and deep. Sixty-four percent of self-identified conservatives in America can't coalesce behind a single candidate for the United States presidency, yet that many of them agree that fair is fair, hard work deserves respect, far-right governors and legislators have misinterpreted their elections, and that corporations are the real power behind the damage being done to America. That's a powerful set of conclusions.

Randy Turner, a 32-year old construction worker from Springfield, Missouri, who participated in the poll, says he sees unions as a corrective force against a government that exerts enough power.

“Trying to make us not have a right for unions for anything is wrong,” says Turner, an independent voter who isn’t a union member. “They help our economy, they help the job market -- all kinds of things our government doesn’t help.”

The skirmishes have intensified support for unions among their members and Democrats, a potential challenge to Republicans in the 2012 elections, says Scott Keeter, a pollster with Pew Research Center in Washington.

“That fact might not change the outcome of the current battles, but could have implications for voter turnout among these groups next year,” he says.

Any chance this might lead governors like Nikki Haley to review their anti-worker positions and rhetoric? Probably not. Haley and others like her were elected largely because of their far-right supporters and blood-red messaging, and they'll be loathe to leave those hardline positions behind so quickly.

But the Bloomberg poll shows that they're not reflecting the views of most Americans.

A majority says unions are appropriate for firefighters, nurses, teachers, prison guards and police officers. Respondents were divided only over whether custodians and office workers also should be unionized.

Poll respondent Margaret Coakley, 72, a retired psychiatric social worker from New York who lives in New Harbor, Maine, says politicians are wrong if they blame public employees for the financial ills of their state.

“It’s outrageous they’re pointing to public employees now,” she says. “That’s not where the problems are.”

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