NEA President Dennis Van Roekel: 6-10-12 Interview – Fox News Sunday – Fox News

10 Jun

WALLACE: Now, we want to hear from the other side of the Wisconsin recall fight: organized labor. Joining us are two key officials: Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest union. And Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff and a leading policy voice at the AFL-CIO, the federation that represents more than 12 million workers.

And welcome to both of you.


THEA LEE, AFL-CIO: Thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: Let’s start with the question I asked Governor Daniels. When you look at the recall vote in Wisconsin, as well as the vote in those two California cities to cut back on government worker pensions, what’s the message, Mr. Van Roekel?

VAN ROEKEL: I think one thing we overlooked is the changer in the Senate. There’s a balance of power now. I think that’s very important. Governor Walker —

WALLACE: You’re talk about Wisconsin?

VAN ROEKEL: Yes, in Wisconsin. And I think that’s very important.

The second thing I think, it really points out the impact of unlimited corporate funding in elections and we have to see as it plays out, especially as we move toward the November.

WALLACE: But, Ms. Lee, I mean — do you not think that there was s a message from the voters that at the time when the states and local governments owe more than $1 trillion to public pension and health care funds, that at least some private voters and nonpublic workers are saying the government workers we pay with our taxes must tighten their belts.

LEE: Well, it’s definitely a tough time economically. I think everybody is looking around to figure out how we’re going to balance our budgets. And that’s something that unions and management and governments all have to come together to figure out.

But I think at the end of the day, we really need to look at the big picture, which is, in this country, should workers, whether they are in the public or private sector, have a decent pension, have a secure requirement and that’s something that people do support at the end of the day.

We have to figure out how to fund it. We have to figure how to fund it. We have to figure out how to make it viable. But I don’t think that voters in this country want to go to the places where our elderly people are living in poverty, are struggling and so on.

So, I think it’s tough time and when the times are tough, people are trying to figure out who’s to blame. But we need to be able to fund our public sector in a way that allows everybody to have a decent.

WALLACE: All right. Well, let’s look at the comparison that we put together of what public workers get and what private workers get. Let’s put it up on the screen.

Sixty-four percent of private workers have access to pensions. Ninety percent of state and local government workers do.

Sixty-nine percent of private workers have access to health insurance. Eighty-seven percent of the public workers do. And private workers average $8.53 in benefits per hour work. Public workers get $14.31 in benefits per hour work.

Ms. Lee, why should people in the private sector be paying their taxes so that the government workers get more than they do?

LEE: Well, I think we have to turn the question around. It’s not so much why do some people have a pension and others not, how do we take away the pension from the people who have it. That’s un- American.

I think we need to figure out how do we make sure that everybody in America has a decent pension. This is a wealthy country.

WALLACE: But would you agree that show that more public workers have access to pension, more public workers have access to health care, and that they are getting more per hour work in terms of benefits than private workers.

LEE: Well, the balance of benefits versus wages in the public sector is a little bit different. But if you look at overall big picture, between public sector and private sector workers, if you compare them according to education and experience in the job category, in fact, public sector workers are not overpaid.

WALLACE: Yes, but that mean workers salary, it doesn’t work for benefits.

LEE: No, that’s when you take salary and benefits.

WALLACE: Well, I’m asking about benefits, though, which is considerably more, $14 an hour versus $8 an hour.

LEE: But some public sector works have chosen to take some of their composition in a form of benefits as oppose to wages. They are not overpaid on average.

In fact, especially on top end where you have doctors and lawyers and accountants and professionals in the public sector, they are earning less even than the private sector can afford, even taking into the account the benefits.

WALLACE: Mr. Van Roekel, can you understand where some people in the private sector would sit there and say, wait a minute, I don’t get the benefits and then I have to pay taxes so public workers get benefits that I don’t get.

VAN ROEKEL: First of all in the comparison with the wages of private versus public are the qualification and education needed for those jobs, so —

WALLACE: Yes. But having said that, there are people, for instance, in your — teachers, they get a degree so they can teach, which wouldn’t be very marketable in the rest of the world.

VAN ROEKEL: And the other part about the pension is we need to understand that he employees are also paying into the pension. So, in cases like in California, where they want to take away from people that are retired, they paid in every paycheck into to their pension. Government didn’t live up to their end. Poor management on the part of government for managing their pension funds denied now the benefits.

In the private sector, the same thing happened. United absolutely blew their pension system, workers got pennies on the dollars, who bailed out the private company who didn’t manage their pension system well? The U.S. government.

And so you have a responsibility as management and employee. We pay in and we expect our employers to pay their share so that the system works. WALLACE: Let’s look at exit polls from Wisconsin this week, which are instructive. Among people who life in union households, private union households, 62 percent voted for Tom Barrett, but 37 percent, more than a third, backed Governor Walker, who instituted these labor reforms. Mr. Van Roekel, we’ve seen this in other state, New Jersey, for example, a lot of people who back private unions think that government workers are getting too much.

VAN ROEKEL: I think it’s part of divide and conquer. The reason they went after the public sector unions and left private sector alone is part of the things to trying to drive a wedge between people.

I also understand that unions are not monolithic.

But I also understand that when you’re outspent seven to one, 68 percent of all of the people saw more ads for Walker than Barrett, I understand their message from the corporate side has been heard better than the one from the common every day workers.

WALLACE: This was the biggest issue in Wisconsin for more than a year. You don’t think — certainly you are right that the Walker side had more money and ads. But the vast majority of people, the exit polls showed that vast majority made up their minds more than a month before the election. They knew what the issues were here.

VAN ROEKEL: One of the big differences between Wisconsin and Ohio — in Ohio, the policy of taking bargaining rights, the voice — just the ability to get fairness from the employer at he table, that was voted down by the citizens two to one.

WALLACE: That was private unions.

VAN ROEKEL: No, no, no, it was public sector. But it’s on a policy question. In Wisconsin, it was a recall, which is very different. Sixty percent of the exit poll, people said that they didn’t believe recalls should be used to oust someone just on political beliefs. So, that was a difficult hurdle to overcome even from day one.

WALLACE: One of the big questions, Ms. Lee, is what government should spend limit said resources on — benefits for workers or services for all of us, for people?

And let me give you an example. In Wisconsin, pension reform will save schools $600 million over two years. In the New Berlin School District in Wisconsin, to take one example, they are using those savings to hire more staff and reduce class size and add programs.

What’s more important? And I ask this of both you.

Actually, let me start specifically because it involves schools with you, Mr. Van Roekel. What’s more important to the NEA — protecting teachers or giving services to the students?

VAN ROEKEL: In Wisconsin, it was never about the economy. It was always a political decision.

The unions did agree to pay more in the pensions and health care in Wisconsin. But Governor Walker, even though he accepted that. He didn’t end there. It was a political game —

WALLACE: But they did save money and as a result, they’re giving more to the students.

VAN ROEKEL: We advocate for both students and employees. You can’t have one without the other. The success of every single student in America depends on well-qualified and well-trained and hopefully well-compensated individuals who are delivering that education.


LEE: I think it’s a false choice between good services and decent pay and pensions for workers. And Governor Walker when he came into office, he didn’t have a budget problem. He gave a big tax cut to the wealthy and to corporations, that created the budget pressures where you end up having to pit quality against pay.

So, you actually can have both. I don’t — I think that unions are totally supported, as Dennis Van Roekel has said, supporting good schools, good services and then also making sure that workers are taken care of.

WALLACE: But there’s just not enough money to go around. Ms. Lee. Let me give you and example.

Look at San Jose, California, where the Democratic mayor of that city says that the cut that was instituted on Tuesday, to public worker pensions, means they are not going to have to close firehouses some of the time because they didn’t have the money to keep them all open all the time. He says that it will give them the money so that they can actually open the four libraries they had built that didn’t have the money to operate.

So, here, you’ve got the Democratic mayor of San Jose saying it’s not a false choice, it’s one or the other.

LEE: But in education in particular, when you think about what the challenges the United States is facing, we need to be competitive in a global economy. We need to attract really great people into the teaching profession. We’re not going to do that if we keep chipping away at their pensions and at their pay and at their job security and so on.

So, I think the other thing you need to think about is how do you get the best people into public service. You’re not going to do that by constantly cutting away at wages —

WALLACE: Forgive me, though, but you’re not answering my question, which is in San Jose, the Democratic mayor says, look, we have a choice. We can let these people keep the pensions that they have, or we can open the firehouses and open the libraries.

LEE: Well, they can find some revenues.

WALLACE: Where are they going to get those?

LEE: Well, you can — right now, we have seen in the top of the tax scales the wealthiest Americans are paying less taxes than they did 10, 20 years ago. So, that’s one place. We have different kind of user fees or tax some corporations that —

WALLACE: So, raise taxes?

LEE: We could raise taxes. We absolutely could raise taxes and we ought to raise taxes if we need to do that to provide social services that Americans need and depend on, and to make sure that we are attracting the best people in public service.

WALLACE: Ms. Lee, how disappointed are you that Barack Obama didn’t show up to campaign in Wisconsin?

LEE: That’s a decision for President Obama. And I think the people of Wisconsin, the workers of Wisconsin, the families of Wisconsin, worked hard, they led this campaign, they showed a tremendous amount of energy and solidarity —

WALLACE: Well, it was all this effort and it was a tremendous effort. The fact that the president — I mean, come on, you must have a feeling?

LEE: I’m not going to second guess the president.

WALLACE: OK. Mr. Van Roekel, let me look at it from another aspect. Is it possible for Mr. Romney to oppose the growth of government and not be the enemy of public work?

VAN ROEKEL: You know, I was high school math teacher for 23 years and his math just doesn’t add up. I mean, when he said that we need to have less firemen, less police and less teacher, and that we ought to invest in people — I don’t understand that math at all.

I think it is the firemen, the policemen, and teachers who are delivering to the American public. They are the ones who are bringing this incredible service to kid, preparing the next generation and he says what we ought to do is build wealth. There is a difference in building wealth in a very small group of people that doing it for the nation.

You know, the last 29 years, productivity up 80 percent, hourly wages up eight. The lowest one-fifth, their wages up 18 percent. But the top one percent, their wages go up 275 percent.

We have got to find a way to lift all citizens, not just a few. Not a 1 percent, not just the wealthy few.

WALLACE: We’re going to have to leave it there. Mr. Van Roekel, Ms. Lee — thank you both so much for joining us today.

VAN ROEKEL: Thank you.

LEE: Thank you.

via NEA President Dennis Van Roekel – Interviews – Fox News Sunday – Fox News.


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