Public Employee Unions, not the problem but part of the solution

Nick Berardino

Over the weekend the Orange County Register published a rebuttal to two Jan. 17 Commentary columns by Mark Landsbaum (“Extreme makeover: state Capitol edition”) and guest contributor Steven Greenhut (“What’s keeping state in sorry shape”). As usual, the two columns promoted the usual meme that all employee unions, in particular public employee unions, are ‘bad.” 

In his rebuttal Nick Berardino, General Manager of the Orange County Employee’s Association, points out that “their views on labor unions and public employees demonstrate much wishful thinking. Their comments seem designed to encourage anti-union ire, when what is really needed is a thorough examination of the issues.” Berardino’s commentary takes on the misrepresentation of public employee unions painted by Steven Greenhut’s picture. 

First, Berardino points out that the Orange County Employees Association is a leader in “working with county government cooperatively to reach solutions to financial problems faced by the county (which include problems flowing from the Sacramento debacle). In Orange County, the public employee unions are working with local government agencies, and do not have an attitude of always wanting more.”  

Berardino points to the fact that OCEA “members are going without pay increases related to the rising cost of living. The most recent agreements with the county have provided for a 401(k)-style option for new hires.”  

“Moreover, readers should remember that retirement benefits for Orange County are funded largely by employee contributions. (The retirement enhancements of 2004 were funded solely by the employees,)” Berardino says.  

Finally Berardino clears up a common mischaracterization of unions promoted by Greenhut. “Unions are not the all-powerful engines of rapacity that Steve tends to portray. Here in Orange County, we have been struggling with layoffs and furloughs of many of our employees, in the county, courts and cities. Unions and their members are addressing state and local government issues responsibly,” Berardino writes.  

It is time to stop painting public employees as the causes of the government’s financial mess. Unions can be, and are, part of the solution.  

You can read Berardino’s complete commentary here. Please give it a read, and comment if you feel so inclined.