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Let's pause for a moment to recognize some of our most important, yet most maligned workers. They are teachers and librarians, police officers and firefighters, bus drivers, doctors, nurses, judges, lawyers, gardeners. They're laborers and other maintenance and construction workers.

They are public employees. There are millions of them, who every day perform many thousands of the essential jobs that keep our country going.

It is they who keep our streets and highways, our parks and playgrounds safe and clean. It is they who help educate our children, who provide emergency health care, who convey us to our jobs, who sometimes risk their very lives to protect us from harm.

Yet despite all that -- and more -- public employees have come under heavy bipartisan attacks by politicians who find them easy targets to blame for the budget shortfalls that beset government at all levels. Labor costs, after all, make up the bulk of government spending everywhere.

The politicians and too many others who benefit from the public employees' services -- who, in fact, demand the services -- complain that public employees are paid too much and their fringe benefits are way too generous. They make scapegoats of public employees, often describing them as overpaid and underworked members of greedy and much too economically and politically powerful unions.


But consider for instance San Francisco: It's true that some city employees, especially executives and some police and firefighters, do get relatively high pay and pensions. But pay for ordinary city employees averages only about $40,000 a year and their pensions average only about $25,000.

Public employee unions are now the vanguard of the labor movement, growing stronger as unions in private employment have declined. Anti-labor forces on Wall Street and elsewhere thus have blamed public employees and their unions for our current economic troubles, hoping to weaken public support for the unions as well as deflect public attention away from the role of anti-labor forces in causing the troubles.

It's time we recognized who the real culprits are and stopped letting them get away with scapegoating the public employees who do the work of government that benefits us all.

With a Perspective, this is Dick Meister.