The Battle of Wisconsin

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Last November the people of Wisconsin went to the polls and elected Republican Scott Walker governor and gave the Republicans a majority in both chambers of the state legislature.  Scott Walker, mirabile dictu, is actually delivering on what he promised to do in the campaign:

The proposal marks a dramatic shift for Wisconsin, which passed a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959 and was the birthplace of the national union representing all non-federal public employees.

In addition to eliminating collective-bargaining rights, the legislation also would make public workers pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage — increases Walker calls “modest” compared with those in the private sector.

Republican leaders said they expected Wisconsin residents would be pleased with the savings the bill would achieve — $30 million by July 1 and $300 million over the next two years to address a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.

“I think the taxpayers will support this idea,” Fitzgerald said.

Wisconsin has long been a bastion for workers’ rights. But when voters elected Walker, an outspoken conservative, along with GOP majorities in both legislative chambers, it set the stage for a dramatic reversal of the state’s labor history.

Under Walker’s plan, state employees’ share of pension and health care costs would go up by an average of 8 percent.

Unions still could represent workers, but could not seek pay increases above those pegged to the Consumer Price Index unless approved by a public referendum. Unions also could not force employees to pay dues and would have to hold annual votes to stay organized.

In exchange for bearing more costs and losing bargaining leverage, public employees were promised no furloughs or layoffs. Walker has threatened to order layoffs of up to 6,000 state workers if the measure does not pass.

The public employee unions have, predictably, gone berserk.  For the past three days, union employees, most notably teachers, who have phoned in “sick” en masse shutting fifteen school districts, have flooded Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, with protesters.  Democrat state senators, in order to stall action on the governor’s proposals, have fled the state and have taken political refuge in union controlled Illinois.  (Actually, in Illinois, Rockford has a rather unique reputation throughout most of the state as a place to flee from.)

Walker’s actions are an opening shot of a political battle royal between public employee unions and fiscal sanity.  The gravy train days for public employee unions are over.  The sweetheart deals they have enjoyed from feckless Democrat politicians elected with their union donations  cannot go on.  The unions can rail against these proposals all they wish, but broke states cannot pay and change is coming, not only in Wisconsin but throughout most of the nation. 

 

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18 Responses to The Battle of Wisconsin

  • Paul Nielander says:

    The really sad thing for me is that the “protesters” have enlisted students and their own kids in their tantrum of greed. What are those kids being taught in school and at home?

    This whole thing is sickening just like the NFL players using collective bargaining for their millions.

    I am reminded of the comments of Gov Christie in N.J. to a teacher who was protesting cuts. His advice was if the job was not to her liking she should search for another.

    Is it at all surprising that Pres.Obama is supporting the Unions? These public employees unions and other unions are a major factor in his election as many members vote mindlessly based on union propaganda.

  • Steve says:

    I live in Madison, and it is chaos here. What’s interesting is that amongst my friends and acquaintances, the battle lines are not drawn by party or ideology, but strictly on union membership.

    I’ve seen solidly Catholic, pro-life, tea-partying friends posting pictures of Scott Walker with a Hitler mustache. I’m completely disgusted.

    The public schools are all closed due to a Wildcat Strike. The Capitol has been trashed.

    I’m sick over this.

  • MarylandBill says:

    I am not surprised that the Union members are upset at this. There are some aspects of what is suggested that trouble me. Note, I fully agree that many states have to cut spending, in some cases dramatically, but there are certain approaches that seem less than appropriate. In any case, in no particular order, here are my objections.

    1. Forcing Unions to vote every year to stay organized? No private company would be allowed to impose such a term on its union employees; it would be considered Union busting.

    2. Limiting pay raises to the consumer price index without a referendum? I can certainly see suggesting pay cuts, or staff cuts to help balance the budget. But frankly, if the state is limited to consumer price index for raises, they might have a hard time attracting and retaining good employees in a number of important areas. Lets remember, in lean times, the government is probably not going to give them those pay raises, but how will they make up the difference when good times return? More importantly, what happens during periods when wages in the private sector start increasing faster than the CPI does? And Referendums? Has Wisconsin learned nothing from California?

    3. How is this actually shrinking government? It might shrink government costs, but it essentially promises to keep everyone in government employed?

    Ultimately, this seems less like an attempt to shrink the government and more like an attempt to bust unions. Further, while I might agree that there are too many state employees, many of them make considerably less by choosing their particular professions than someone with a similar level of Education could in the private sector. My wife was a teacher before she became a stay at home Mom. Her Salary was only 3/5′s what mine was despite the fact that she had a Master’s Degree and I only have a Bachelor’s. Is there inefficiency in government? Yep, is there waste? Are there people who are sitting on their buts not doing a whole lot? Absolutely. But the key is to shrink the government and get rid of the waste, not punish the effective police officers, firemen and teachers who are effective.

  • Phillip says:

    “2. Limiting pay raises to the consumer price index without a referendum? I can certainly see suggesting pay cuts, or staff cuts to help balance the budget. But frankly, if the state is limited to consumer price index for raises, they might have a hard time attracting and retaining good employees…”

    Last time I had a pay raise due to CPI was when I was in the military. Since that time, the only time I’ve gotten a pay raise is when I changed jobs.

  • Art Deco says:

    Ultimately, this seems less like an attempt to shrink the government and more like an attempt to bust unions.

    What’s the downside?

    My wife was a teacher before she became a stay at home Mom. Her Salary was only 3/5?s what mine was despite the fact that she had a Master’s Degree and I only have a Bachelor’s.

    Sorry she got gypped.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    Steve, earlier this week about 4,000 Illinois teachers descended on our capital to protest legislation infringing on their rights. However, you didn’t hear about it on the national news. Also, I live in Springfield and work across the street from the capitol, and can verify that the protest was entirely peaceful and orderly. There was nowdisruption whatsoever of state government, and the protestors left the Capitol grounds just as they found them.

    Surprised? I’m not, because the teachers in question were actually homeschooling parents protesting a bill that would have forced them to register with the State Board of Education. They got what they wanted (at least for now) without having to call in Jesse Jackson, the DNC, or anyone else.

  • American Knight says:

    In theory, although often not in practice, unions can be a benefit to the employees and a check against those who seek profits at any expense. What would have happened in Poland without the unions to stand against the Communists and the martial law? I am a little confused though, aren’t unions for government employees essential engaged in collective bargaining against the people they allege to be serving? We are not shareholders, we are citizens. Last I checked government was not designed or intended to be a profitable (financially) enterprise and judging from their fiscal state they wouldn’t know how to make a profit anyway, they are practically all broke.

    It seems that forces are aligned to pit those who ‘serve’ the public against the public. This is not only sad, it is disgusting. When the government is broke all citizens are affected, so shouldn’t those who work for the government share some of the same pain as the rest of us? Or, are these people a special class? For all government employees on this site, I am not directing this at you, this is in regard to those who find government work a reward for themselves and not an act of service, paid or not.

  • Bill Sr. says:

    Steve

    If the mere thought or mention of having the union fat cats, who collect billions from the working class to see that they can forever seat the right people in Washington who will perpetuate their desire to leverage local and state governments and control public workers through premium salary and benefit plans unavailable to most private sector workers, cut some slack for the good of all the people in Wisconsin and not have the state go bankrupt causes them to act like enslaved Egyptian rioters it should give you an indication of just out of control their lust for power has become.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    A few further thoughts/ramblings:

    I don’t think it was necessary or prudent for EITHER side to escalate this dispute to this level.

    The unions, of course, should not have gone nuclear over pension and health insurance concessions that while significant, are not out of line with what employees of other states have been asked to do. (Illinois state employees like myself already pay as much or more toward their own pensions and health insurance than Wisconsin state employees are being asked to do.) I don’t blame them for not LIKING it — no one, regardless of whom they work for, wants to suddenly be forced to cough up hundreds or thousands of dollars more every month — but it is fiscal reality that has to be faced.

    That said…. I also believe Walker may have overreached by going beyond the financial concessions to actually imposing limits on collective bargaining itself. He might as well have waved a red flag in front of a herd of raging bulls or tossed gasoline on a fire that, up to that point, could have been contained with minimal damage.

    Adding further fuel to the flames was the manner in which Walker announced last week that he was calling up the National Guard. The intent, apparently, was to have Guard members ready to FILL IN for prison guards or other public safety personnel who might walk off their jobs. However, it has widely been interpreted as a threat to use force against the workers themselves — and Walker has not, in my opinion, done enough to dispel that notion. Among people of a certain age it conjures up images of Chicago in 1968, Kent State, et. al. Most people don’t remember that era very fondly, if they remember it at all (Walker himself, at age 43, wouldn’t) but in the People’s Republic of Madison, there may still be some who do.

    I agree with the general goal among fiscal conservatives of putting the brakes on out of control public sector unions. But it took more than 50 years for public union power to reach this point, and it is just not realistic to attempt to undo most of all of that in just a few days or weeks. I fear that Walker AND the union leaders are engaging in grandstanding for a national audience at the expense of Wisconsin citizens, and at the risk of igniting a culture war not seen since the Vietnam Era. (Walker’s recent attempts to poach businesses from Illinois, despite the fact that Illinois’ new tax rates are still LOWER than Wisconsin’s, reinforces this notion for me.)

    Now on the other side of the pond, in Michigan, we have another new GOP governor, Rick Snyder, also attempting to get significant concessions from public unions — but doing so through the existing negotiation process, respecting the bargaining rights already in place. Snyder seems to be doing only what is necessary and NOT going out of his way to treat the unions as enemies to be destroyed at all costs. (Yes, the unions are starting to raise heck there but that may be more of a reaction to what’s happening in Wisconsin than anything else.) Even Chris Christie in New Jersey hasn’t, to date, ticked off unions to the extent Walker has. We’ll see whose approach works best in the long run.

    Finally, Knight’s comments about the role of unions in society are right on the mark. There’s a reason why unions exist, and why the Church from the time of Leo XIII defended their right to exist — in the PRIVATE sector. Those who work for a private employer accountable to no one but himself or to the shareholders may need recourse to a union; those who work for a democratically elected government accountable to voters and taxpayers, not so much.

    You all may be aware that Abp. Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee issued a statement regarding the situation and the Church’s teaching on unions. I may have more on that later today if someone else here doesn’t beat me to the punch :-)

  • M.Z. says:

    The unions didn’t go nuclear over pension and fringe benefits.

    From AFSCME

    We have said all along that we are willing to sit down with the Governor to address our budget challenges. Let me be even more clear today: We are prepared to implement the financial concessions proposed to help bring our state’s budget into balance, but we will not be denied our God?given right to join a real union.

    For us, public service isn’t about money. No one ever said “I want to be a nurse to get rich.” Or “I want to be a teacher so I can buy a huge house on the lake.” Being a public employee is about sacrificing to help improve the lives of our friends, family and neighbors.

    We will meet the Governor half way. But we will not ? I repeat we will NOT ? be denied our rights to collectively bargain. We will not under any circumstances give up our freedom to join a real union.

    Our voice has been heard in every corner of this nation. And it will continue to be heard until the Governor sits down with us with the true interests of the state and the rights of its citizens at heart.

    Hopefully this will put an end to Walker’s false flag operation, but I’m doubtful.

  • Well if you can’t trust Afscme….well, actually you can’t trust Afscme. I have absolutely no doubt however that the powers that be at the helm of the public employee unions would be willing to throw their members under the bus on salary and fringe benefits as long as they can get rid of two key provisions: annual elections to stay recognized as the union and the right of the unions to grab the dues of members through payroll deduction. Why is this? Because public employee unions, like most unions, are intensely unpopular with a signifcant fraction of the workers who are required to belong to them. Given an annual free choice, and the ability of each worker to decide whether to fork over their dues money, public employee unions would quickly go the way of the Dodo. Public employee unions in modern times have never relied upon the fervor of their members, rather they have always relied on coercion of their members courtesy of the State. If that is gone, the bottom falls out for them, and the union bosses realize that.

  • Bill Sr. says:

    Leaders that can manipulate and turn a normal god fearing working man or woman into regulated union robots who on command become enraged leaving their jobs and forming what some might call a pre-lynching mob simply by a plea to have some economic equity between themselves and non-union workers for the sake of all have to at least be willing to negotiate without creating havoc across the state. We pray this situation can soon return to some degree of civility that the president most recently has called for.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    “the unions didn’t go nuclear over pension and fringe benefits”

    Which is exactly my point. If Walker had stuck to those issues and not gone for th jugular, so to speak, we would not be seeing all this chaos.

  • Paul Bergeron says:

    “Given an annual free choice, and the ability of each worker to decide whether to fork over their dues money, public employee unions would quickly go the way of the Dodo. Public employee unions in modern times have never relied upon the fervor of their members, rather they have always relied on coercion of their members courtesy of the State. If that is gone, the bottom falls out for them, and the union bosses realize that.” Substitute “sovereign state” for “worker”, “political” for “public employee”, “federal government” for “the State” and “federal bureaucrats” for “union bosses” and you will have the logical meaning of the United States Constitution until 150 years ago.

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