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Thursday, February 17, 2011

the craziness in WI

I've been thinking long and hard about whether or not to post an opinion on what is now happening in WI, but when it got down to it, I just couldn't help myself.

If you don't know, there is a bill in place to change a bunch of things related to the budget crisis being experienced in the state (not unlike CA right now). One of the items being proposed by the new Gov, Scott Walker, will include a reduction in the union bargaining rights for state employees.

What I think is getting lost in this whole discussion is the fact that most, if not all, of the state unionized workers are already able to claim civil service protections under state agencies and current law. Not only that, but most if not all employees are receiving greatly reduced if not free health-care and are paying nothing into the pensions they are receiving. All of that money is coming from the state. One writer wrote it up like this: the new bill would require "public employees contribute 5.8% of their pay to their pensions and 12.6% of the cost of their health care premiums."

As a unionized employee myself, I can easily relate to the discussion. What I can't get over though is the thought that people in WI are so upset by the prospect of having to pay into pensions and for health-care. Where does it say that the state or federal govt for that matter is obligated to just give money to people for free? Now I realize in some cases and in some professions, music comes to mind, that income is so greatly reduced that some kind of concession is needed to assist those who have a limited income (and I don't disagree with that). But for those who make $40-50k a year, I don't think its unreasonable to expect those individuals to contribute something to their benefits packages.

The other argument is the reduced cut of unionized bargaining (most of which I think is what's causing the state "sick-in" that is happening today). My only question on that is this: If current law provides civil protections for state employees and is already in place, then why shouldn't there be consideration (or at least a discussion) for reduction in something that will help balance the state budget?

I'll come back to my main thought. It's easy to get riled up, especially when the big picture seems a bit cloudy. But if everyone is so upset about what has been proposed, why doesn't someone offer an alternative??? I'm sure that the legislature would be willing to consider another option if presented. But right now it seems like getting all riled up and vilifying Scott Walker seems to be preferred, rather than the focus being on trying to fix a state budget that is on parallel to CA's by proportion. It may not have been a popular choice, but at least the Governor decided to offer something. As participants in a democratic system, other alternatives are allowed to be offered and debated.

Will someone in WI step up and offer an alternative? Since most schools are now closed in the state, everyone should have a good chance to think about it.

Addendum: Just a little more context on this issues regarding the union rights:

First, Walker hasn’t “outlawed” unions, or even proposed outlawing them, either. Walker’s proposal would restrict negotiations with non-law-enforcement unions to wages only, and would require re-certification votes each year. It would also make Wisconsin a right-to-work state, ending automatic deduction of union dues from paychecks and instead make them voluntary. That may put unions in a tough position to justify their continued representation, but it hardly outlaws the unions.


  1. Rich, thanks for your post; it very well put together a lot of the thoughts that I've had after skimming through the bill but I have a hard time putting words to "paper", as I've never been a union employee and have never not had to pay into my own retirement and am looking at having to pay for private insurance in the near future...

    ... anyway, thank you, I thought it was a great post.

  2. I don't think it's right to focus on the war of ideas at this point -- the time for justifying your benefits and presenting alternative cuts is long past when the bill is on the table to break you. It takes years of think tank effort against public sector unions and getting friendly candidates elected to get to the point where a bill like this has the votes and public support to even be thinkable. Too late to start trying to make it unthinkable now -- you just have to make it undoable, or lose.

    I hate to see one of the few remaining middle-class political organizations get dismantled, leading to an even less representative government, but for me it's outweighed by the fact that they mainly act like an arm of the government that can vote to increase its own funding.

  3. I believe the democratic process should always be at the forefront, no matter what - I'm not necessarily willing to concede that amendments or other options are completely out of the question, even on a politically hot topic like this one is.

    My feeling is, the budget deficit is so bad that you can't ignore any possible option to bring about change. I feel its less about "getting back at the unions" and more about "let's get our fiscal house in order".