A Bloomberg News poll conducted this month shows that 64 percent of Americans favor public sector unions’ right to collectively bargain salary and benefits.
About the same number believe states should not break promises made to retirees, while respondents split largely along party lines over whether attempts by governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere to curb collective bargaining were an effort in union busting or budget balancing.
According to the poll: 70% of Democrats say Republican governors are unfairly targeting public employee unions, while 63 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of independents say public employees should be willing to make sacrifices because of the state budget deficits.
The public versus private sector debate is raging nationwide and has hit a fever pitch in the Garden State where Gov. Chris Christie has begun a campaign to curb public employee benefits and pensions, citing figures that show a $54 billion deficit in its pension and a $66.8 billion unfunded liability in its health care system. By 2041, Christie has said, the pension liability will hit $183 billion, while the health benefit liability will grow 40 percent over the next four years.
Christie has vowed to slash those numbers through a combination of reforms that would force employees to pay more for health care costs and contribute a greater portion of their pension benefits. The governor has proposed requiring employees to pay 30 percent of the cost of their health benefits premiums, up from 8 percent under the current system.
For retirees, contribution levels would remain the same, but co-pays would increase in line with an increase in the number of plans available.
Unions have pushed back against the proposals, saying benefits and pension should be collectively bargained, to which Christie has responded with a series of attacks, chiding the unions for their “me-first” attitude. To date, no legislation has been introduced that reflects the governor’s plan.
Democratic state Sen. President Steve Sweeney, himself a member of the Iron Workers Union, has submitted a plan that would require an increase in health benefits contributions phased in over seven years. No cost savings estimate is available for Sweeney’s plan, but the top salaried employees – those who make over $100,000 – would pay 30 percent of their premium while the lowest-paid would contribute 12 percent. Christie’s plan calls for a 30 percent contribution across the board.
Read the entire Bloomberg poll here: