MSNBC: Fierce attacks leave public workers stinging

Some reconsider careers as lawmakers target union pay, benefits

April 5, 2011- They take away your trash. They protect your homes, your property and your families. They put out your fires and they educate your children. And somehow, in the past year or so, the uniforms many of them wear have grown a bull's-eye on the back. Or at least that's how they feel.

After the worst recession since the Great Depression, as state and local governments struggle to meet budgets with dwindling revenues, public union workers have become targets of politicians, pundits and ordinary citizens who think their salaries are too high and their jobs too cushy.

That has left many public union workers feeling misunderstood.

“We make $35,000 a year, and they want to throw stones at public workers,” said Roland Bell, 44, a sanitation worker in Wilmington, Del. "They don’t know half of what our jobs entail.”

Bell's hurt feelings and anger are being echoed across the country as unionized workers defend their pay and benefits from attacks by legislators in state after state. Undeterred by protests in some state capitals, lawmakers have moved forward with efforts to cut costs by reducing worker pay and benefits or gutting collective bargaining rights.

“Several things came together that have resulted in the fiercest attack on public workers that I can remember,” said Harley Shaiken, a professor at University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor issues.


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