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Letters to the Editor

A more perfect union

Jim Ammerman March 23rd, 2011

Jason Reese (Commentary, “Can it happen here?,” March 3, Oklahoma Gazette) starts out his argument with an opinion stated as fact. Reese states that “the only viable answer” is to convert defined benefit pensions to defined contribution pensions, and that “collective bargaining rights” are “the root of the problem.”

These 401(k) plans were never meant to be retirement plans. They were a loophole tax shelter for upper management. In 1978, the tax code was changed by big business lobbying to allow the common worker to participate. Nebraska tried 401(k) plans alongside regular pensions for several decades to see the viability of 401(k) plans. Nebraska dropped the 401(k)s and put everybody back on pensions.

The 401(k) plans just don’t work unless you are a day trader and contribute 15 percent to 20 percent of each paycheck, then get lucky with the stock market. Oklahoma has not been paying into the teachers’ pension as promised by contract and now with tough times is far behind in payments. This is, of course, the teachers’ fault and they must be taught a lesson.

The viability here relies on an unspoken presumption that if unions dissolve, public sector workers will vanish and the doors will open to privatization, where new management (friends with money) will correct all the problems with intuitive, intelligent decisions.

Let’s assume Reese is correct: The answer is to rid ourselves of unions, the single entity that allowed our parents and grandparents to become the middle class we all strive to belong to. Our elected officials cannot negotiate with unions because they don’t know how to give a little to get a little. Reese and his ilk want somebody else to do the work that public employees do and they want taxpayers to pay for it, somebody else to manage those employees and they want to make a profit doing it, by hiring young, new employees that earn entry-level wages and won’t dare say anything for fear of losing their jobs.

Reese and Republicans that now hold the levers of power don’t understand that we the people want solutions that work for everybody — not just the employers, the rich or those in temporary power: a fair wage, safe working conditions for a fair day’s work and a share in the profit being made from the sweat of our brows. If there is a problem, come to the table and talk about it. Before you slash wages, look for waste. Your employees might even be able to help show you where and how if you would just ask. Unemployed don’t buy new cars or refrigerators.

—Jim Ammerman

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