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Phony New York Times/CBS News Poll On Public Union Collective Bargaining Rights

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Posted on March 1 2011 4:33 pm
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According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, a majority of Americans say they oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions and are also against cutting the pay or benefits of public workers to reduce state budget deficits.

These findings, which the Times reports on p.1 in its March 1st edition,  are consistent with some other recent polls, but are misleading because of the way in which the questions were framed.

The questions themselves, which appear on p.18, include the following:

Collective bargaining refers to negotiations between an employer and a labor union’s members to determine the conditions of employment. Some states are trying to take away some of the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. Do you favor or oppose taking away some of the collective bargaining rights of these unions?

Only 33% were in favor of “taking away some of the collective bargaining rights.” 60% of respondents were opposed. However, the question’s phrasing helped produce this skewed result.

The question inaccurately states that collective bargaining involves negotiations between an employer and “a labor union’s members.” It is union leaders “representing” the members who actually sit at the bargaining table and insist on such “conditions of employment” as mandatory union dues automatically deducted from a worker’s paycheck by the government and no alternatives to an expensive union-provided health insurance plan.

How do you suppose the results would have come out if the question included mandatory union dues and no choice in health plans as the kinds of conditions of employment which Governor Walker and other reformers are trying to eliminate? How do you suppose the results would have come out if tenure and last in-first out seniority rules were listed among the subjects of collective bargaining? Or if the question mentioned that the mandatory dues deducted automatically from a worker’s paycheck are being used to finance campaigns of Democrats, irrespective of what political preferences the members being forced to contribute the dues may have?

Moreover, the question omits a key piece of information that might have had an influence on some responders.  Federal Government employees have no collective bargaining power. It was eliminated by a Democratic Congress and signed by Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

Here is another question from the New York Times/CBS News poll:

If you had to choose one, which of the following would you be willing to do in order to reduce your state’s budget deficit?

The choices provided included increasing taxes, decreasing the benefits of public employees, decreasing financing for roads and public transportation, decreasing financing for education and no opinion.

Forty percent responded that they would be willing to “increase taxes.” Only 22% said they would be willing to “decrease benefits of public employees.”

But suppose the question had been phrased this way:

Would you be willing to pay higher taxes to subsidize the cost of health and pension benefits for those public-sector  employees who contribute less towards the cost of their benefits than private-sector employees performing the same work?

The  New York Times/CBS News poll also asked:

In order to reduce state budget deficits, do you favor or oppose cutting the pay or benefits of public employees?

Again the question’s phrasing leads to a distorted result – in this case, 37% in favor of cutting pay or benefits and 56% opposed. The results would have likely been much closer if the question had been phrased like this:

In order to reduce state budget deficits, do you favor or oppose reducing the pay or benefits of public employees in your state if they are higher than the national average for public employees performing the same duties?

Polls on volatile issues such as the rights of public-sector union members have to be taken with a grain of salt. Pollsters working for organizations like the New York Times, who have their own strong biases on the issue being polled, can obtain the results they want by asking their questions in a certain way.

The New York Times‘ latest poll, which it is trumpeting with a front page headline, is not worth the paper it is printed on – which, in the case of the Times, is not very much at all.

Joseph Klein is the author of a recent book entitled Lethal Engagement: Barack Hussein Obama, the United Nations and Radical Islam

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