Unions 'toast' after failed Wisconsin recall election against Gov. Scott Walker, pundits suggest

Published: Wednesday, June 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a pension bill that raised the minimum retirement age from 55 to 60. In Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee is seeking to let cities cut benefits to retired public workers. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tried to cut budgets by raising the retirement age for most government workers from 62 to 65, and lowering the money given to workers after retirement to 50 percent of their salary, from 60 percent, ABC reported. Governor Jerry Brown, Calif., and Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel have also moved in the same direction.

"Pensions are the number-one budgetary problem in the United States," Christina Tobin of Taxpayers United of America told ABC. "The system is unsustainable. If we don't reform it, the system will collapse and the paychecks will stop coming."

Hidden amongst the drama of the Wisconsin recall, voters in San Diego and San Jose also took on union pensions Tuesday, approving pension overhauls by nearly 70 percent in both cities. The changes include a six-year freeze on pay levels used to determine pension benefits unless a two-thirds majority of the City Council votes to override it. It also puts all new hires except for police officers into 401k-style plans.

"We believe people are tired of having services cut back because of big pensions," San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said.

A union consultant has signaled that the San Jose union will sue over the changes, CBS San Francisco reported.

The Wisconsin recall could have been a big win for unions, Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University told The Wall Street Journal. A loss, though, would be interpreted as a sign of weakness and a lack of public sympathy. In his post-election breakdown, Ezra Klein of The Washington Post agreed.

"Labor's inability to win the recall is more evidence of their inability to reverse their own structural decline," Klein wrote. "They're not winning on worksites, as the share of the labor force that's unionized has been dropping for decades, and they're not winning at the ballot box . . . For a long time, a lot of energy has been devoted to the question of 'how do you revive the labor movement?' The truth is, at this point, you probably can't."

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