Public Sector Workers' Rights

State and Local Government Workers

Members of First United Church of Christ in Sauk City, WI rallied at the Wisconsin State House.

In many states, public employees -- police, fire fighters, teachers, social workers, park rangers, public health nurses, and many others -- are under attack. Governors and legislators are proposing cuts to their pay and benefits, and the elimination or restrictions on their right to bargain collectively over compensation and working conditions.

The right of workers to form unions and bargain collectively is a universally-recognized human right, included in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23). The United Church of Christ General Synod XXI meeting in 1997 spoke to the right of workers to organize unions to promote their interests in the workplace:

"Therefore, Be It Resolved that the Twenty-first General Synod reaffirms the heritage of the United Church of Christ as an advocate for just, democratic, participatory and inclusive economic policies in both public and private sectors, including … the responsibility of workers to organize for collective bargaining with employers regarding wages, benefits, and working conditions, and the responsibility of employers to respect not only worker rights but also workers’ dignity, and to create and maintain a climate conducive to the workers’ autonomous decision to organize."

UCC Conference Ministers in two states where these struggles are most severe – Rev. David Moyer of the Wisconsin Conference and Rev. Bob Molsberry of the Ohio Conference – have written insightful pastoral letters to the congregations in their conferences.   Wisc   Ohio

Show your support for public sector workers.

Pray.  Interfaith Worker Justice has created a Prayer for Public Sector Workers.

Read JWM's Why Christians Support Labor Unions.

Read the UC News story: UCC clergy, members rally in support of workers' rights.

Read statements from faith leaders around the country in support of public employees and their rights.

Read "Religious Leaders Offer Sanctuary to WI Legislators Fighting for Public Employees' Rights," February 18, 2011.

Pride @ Work: 45 National & State LGBT Organizations Stand in Solidarity & Pledge Action for Workers’ Rights. 

In the struggles over public sector employees that are occurring in a number of states, we urge the following points be kept in mind.

  • State and local public sector workers teach our children, protect our communities, save us from fires, guard those we have convicted of crimes, care for our parks and do countless other tasks to improve and enrich our lives. These friends and neighbors are woven into the fabric of our communities. They deserve decent compensation and should not be vilified because we chose to cut taxes and make other choices that hurt our economy.
  • Many of the states where public employees are under attack are facing budget crises. But these budget problems are caused by a weak economy and ill-advised tax cuts that have deprived the state of needed revenue. Eliminating collective bargaining for public employees is not going to solve a revenue crisis.
  • Paying workers adequately and giving workers a voice in their workplace actually strengthens the economy. Workers who are reasonably well compensated create more stable communities, do not have as much need for public services, can build assets, spend locally, and are better able to focus on and excel at their jobs.
  • Collective bargaining is how fire fighters have been able to secure safety standards. Collective bargaining by teachers has secured classroom conditions such as reasonable class size and caseloads for public school counselors. Collective bargaining is how a basic salary floor has been established for school teachers, thereby establishing a climate to attract well qualified professionals.
  • Many state and local employees have already agreed to pay cuts, furloughs, and benefit cuts such as increases in their share of health care costs. They’ve also saved millions of dollars with numerous labor/management partnerships.
  • Overall, public sector workers are paid less (counting the combined cost of both wages and benefits) than private sector workers with similar levels of education. More from the Economic Policy Institute.  And more... and more.
  • When negotiating pay and benefits, public sector workers bargain over their total compensation (the cost of their entire wage and benefit package). Then they decide the how much of the total will be devoted to wages, pensions, and other benefits. The costs of their pensions comes out of the total compensation package they negotiate with their employers. Employees pay 100% of the cost of the pension. To now say that employees should “pay more” of the cost is actually making them pay twice. More

Good articles:

  • New York Times, March 16, 2011, Ohio Town Sees Public Job as Only Route to Middle Class traces the potential impact of Ohio Senate Bill 5, pending in the Ohio House, a bill that would cut collective bargaining rights for public servants in the small Ohio River town of Gallipolis. 
  • Education historian Diane Ravitch, posted Eight Civics Lessons from Governor Walker, March 14, 2011, Huffington Post.
  • George Wood, principal of Federal Hocking High School here in Ohio, posted an excellent blog on why he is very comfortable working with teachers unions through collective bargaining.
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CONTACT INFO

Ms. Edith Rasell, Ph.D.
Minister for Economic Justice
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-3709
raselle@ucc.org