Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wisconsin Leads Way as Workers Fight State Cuts

Another front-page story in yesterday's NYT about the battle royale taking place between the governor and legislature vs. the unions, who correctly see this as a mortal threat, not just in Wisconsin, but nationally:


Governor Walker's plan would limit collective bargaining for most state and local government employees to wages, barring them from negotiating on issues like benefits and work conditions. It would also require workers to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, cap wage increases based on the Consumer Price Index and limit contracts to one year. And it would take on the power of unions by requiring them to take annual votes to maintain certification, and by permitting workers to stop paying union dues. Police and fire unions, which have some of the most expensive benefits but who supported Mr. Walker's campaign for governor, are exempted.


"If they succeed in Wisconsin, the birthplace of A.F.S.C.M.E., they will be emboldened to attack workers' rights in every state," Mr. McEntee said. "Instead of trying to work with public employees at the bargaining table, they've decided to throw away the table."

On paper, Wisconsin might seem an unlikely candidate for an assault on unions. Like many other states, it has grappled with large spending gaps during the economic downturn, but its projected deficits for the next two years are nowhere near the worst in the country — more like in the middle of the pack.


Its 7.5 percent unemployment rate is below the national average. Its pension fund is considered one of the healthiest in the nation, and it is not suffering from the huge shortfalls that other states are facing.


Those facts have groups on both sides thinking if it can happen there, it can anywhere.


I have mixed feelings about what's happening in WI.  On the one hand, I think that the public sector unions in many states became so politically powerful that they were, in effect, negotiating with themselves and were thus able to get pay and, more importantly, long term pension and healthcare benefits that will bankrupt many states and municipalities.  These deals will have to be renegotiated.  In addition, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, which we've seen in terrible union behavior in some areas – Exhibit A being iron-clad job protections that protect even the worst teachers.  Exhibit B are easily gameable pension formulas that allow union members to work a bunch of overtime in their last year to get massively higher pensions than they would otherwise be due.  Clearly, in many states, the pendulum swung too far in one direction and needs to come back to the center.


That said, I think what Gov. Walker is trying to do in WI is going way too far – to the point where it's mostly politically motivated union busting.  For the Republicans on this list who are delighted that the most powerful interest group backing the Democratic Party is being attacked, think about how you'd feel if a Democratic governor and legislature came to power and tried to destroy various Republican lobbying/interest groups.


If Gov. Scott's motives are so pure and high-minded – he claims that he's just trying to address a budget crisis – then why did he give a $140 million tax cut to his corporate supporters and why this: "Police and fire unions, which have some of the most expensive benefits but who supported Mr. Walker's campaign for governor, are exempted."


Wisconsin Leads Way as Workers Fight State Cuts

Published: February 18, 2011

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