Wisconsin's fight over unions' right to exist
Wisconsin native, and my circles there include a lot of political
diversity--and quite a few schoolteachers. So my Facebook wall has been lively
ever since the state budget protests began last week. I've been particularly
agitated, however, since I woke up yesterday to the sound of a radio reporter
observing that Wisconsinites want Gov. Scott Walker and the public-employee
unions to reach a compromise.
compromise? The unions have been all but screaming that they'd love to reach a
compromise, but the governor's not budging. Some facts about the situation in
- While it's
true that state workers pay a lower share of their health premiums than most
private-sector employees, it's also true that they've made wage sacrifices already in the form of, among other
things, furlough days.
governor claims his budget bill eliminates only the state workers' right to
collectively bargain for benefits, not the right to bargain for base pay. But
the bill also prevents their wages from rising faster than inflation--that is, from rising at all in terms
of real value. (Allowing workers to bargain while making it impossible for them
to get anywhere is like allowing citizens to vote when there's only one candidate.)
workers already make far less than their private-sector counterparts--even if
you crunch the numbers using both wages and benefits together.
- It's hard
to take Gov. Walker's tough budget talk seriously when just weeks ago he pushed tax cuts through that, while not affecting the current fiscal year, will exacerbate shortfalls in the next
two years. Assuming Walker keeps his campaign promises--and he's shown no sign
of backing off--there are more tax cuts to come.
- The Koch
brothers, big-time funders of the allegedly grassroots Tea Party movement, were
Walker's second-largest campaign contributor.
- If Walker
succeeds in gutting collective bargaining, the city of Madison could lose $7 million in federal transit money--one-sixth of
its transit budget. Low-income residents would bear the brunt of the resulting
importantly, the unions have made it clear that they're willing to take the
proposed hit to their members' benefits. What they're not willing to do is give
up the right to negotiate in the future--the right to be a functioning union.
Walker, however, isn't interested in compromise.
because the fight Walker picked with state workers isn't about balancing the
budget, and it isn't about making public employees pay a bigger chunk of their
benefits. It's about destroying unions.
It's hard to
defend everything unions say and do, not least because they spend a fair amount
of time arguing amongst themselves. But it's one thing to disagree with how the
right to collectively bargain is exercised. It's quite another to attack that right.
the American middle class, which could use some rebuilding. Organized labor is the last institutional line of defense against corporate interests in
politics. Labor rights are recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, to say nothing of numerous church bodies. The Wisconsin Catholic
Conference, for one, has been strongly supportive of state workers' position. (No
word as to whether brothers Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald--who lead the senate and
assembly Republicans, respectively--will be denied communion for promoting an effort so flatly
opposed to church teaching.)
Wisconsin's Democratic state senators, they're hiding out in Illinois to avoid a quorum call--but the
Republicans have some tricks of their own in mind. And farther away,
other governors are looking to follow Walker's lead.