Some Quick Thoughts on Scott Walker vs. the Unions

Facebook, Twitter and Wisconsin in general was set ablaze late last weekend when Wisconsin’s new Governor Scott Walker proposed a bill that would strip public employee unions of the right to collectively bargain on any issues, besides pay.  Unions would also not be allowed to automatically deduct dues from paychecks and would be required to hold secret ballot votes each year to verify that members still wanted to be in the union.  If a majority did not, the union would be disbanded.

There are four main things I don’t like about the Walker vs. Public Unions battle going on back home in Wisconsin.

First, I don’t like that Walker is just ramming this bill through without any debate.  It’s same problem I had with the Democrats in Congress the past two years.  Our political system should not be either side ramming things through whenever they have the power.  There should be debate, an attempt at compromise, then a bill, then if necessary, ram away.

Second, exempting firefighter and police unions from the bill is a clear case of quid pro quo.  These two unions are the only ones who supported Walker in his election bid against the Democrats and now are being given much better deals.  If you’re going to propose a bill like this, you have to go all in.  You can’t pick and choose based on who supported you in the last election.

Third, I have a problem with many of the responses from union members.  Some are calling Walker “Hitler” and others are basically saying, “if anything we deserve a raise because we’re underpaid.”  Calling someone Hitler because he’s cutting your pay about 15% is completely uncalled for and only makes you look like an idiot.

Union Supporter from Facebook

Fourth, I don’t like the idea that these cuts are being made across the board.  Cutting someone who is fully funded by the federal government weakens services and does not help our current budget problems.  Gov. Doyle did the same thing when he required federally funded state employees to take furlough days, now Walker is cutting state employees who are federally funded again.  It doesn’t make sense to make cuts with a machete, it should be done with a scalple.

It’s pretty clear Walker is trying to smash the public employee unions.  He could have gotten the same contractual result by bargaining to an impass and then imposing his will, but he decided to make a show of force.  Most public employees can’t strike, so Walker is sending them a clear message that he’s serious.  I think his message goes too far, but I think the unions have to realize that cuts will be made.

Our state has a 140m huge budget deficit this year and one in the billions next year.  The problem will only get bigger as most of the older workers retire on nice pensions.  Our state pensions and health insurance are sort of like the auto companies, meaning something has to be done.  I understand that nobody likes to have their salary and benefits cut, but there are only three options.  Cut employees benefits packages, cut services or raise taxes.

I think we should be looking at all options and nothing should be spared from intense scruitany.  My first cuts would be to administrators at public schools.  My old high school has 7 administrators, a full time athletic director and it’s own superintendant for one school.  I’d merge our high school district with the middle and elementry district and cut the fat and move that over to retaining teachers.  It’s insane that there’s this much fat in a school with about 1500 kids.

I don’t have time to look for more places to cut, but you get the idea.  There’s fat in most areas of state government and it will have to be cut.

My question to the people protesting:

If not your pay, what else should be cut from the state budget to close our deficit?  If nothing, should we raise taxes?


  • They are calling him Hitler because Hitler did the same thing his first year in power cutting all labor unions

    • May be true, but surely there’s others who have done this too and didn’t kill 8m more and invade half of the world? Comparing anyone to Hitler just weakens your points in my eyes.

  • Here’s a comment from one of my friends that got deleted by Disqus:

    I have so, so much to say about this…but in terms of the administrators…yes they make a lot of money compared to the teachers but they do not make a lot of money compared to others in the private sector who have their masters and doctorate degrees (most have dr’s at this level).

    The intelligent people who work in schools with college, grad. and doc. degrees could be making so much more money if they chose to go into other professions. They are (arguably to some) doing one of the most important jobs in existence for much less pay than they could be getting in other professions. Why should their pay be cut even more? It would be okay to pay 15ish % of healthcare, etc. if our salaries increased. With such low salaries, that’s a big hit.

    I’ll have my masters soon and I’ll still be making under $36,000/year. Also, without the union backing, think of the teachers who have devoted their entire careers to teaching and now make, gasp, $60,000/year.

    They can easily be fired and replaced with someone who could be working for half of that. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article:

    It gets at the tax issue, which I think can be a much better way to handle the budget crisis.

    • My beef with administrators isnt that their salary is higher than teachers, its that there are no so many more admins than before. I think if we eliminated a bunch of assistant principal positions or made the coaches of each sports do their own scheduling instead of a full time athletic director, we’d save a bunch of money.

      The linked article is interesting. I like that we have a flat rate here in wisconsin, as it’s easier to understand as a business, but I’m not in favor of all of the incentives. I’d be much happier with a little bit lower tax rate, but eliminate all of the incentives. Simplicity is much better.

      I don’t think it makes sense to “blame” corporations or try to “blame” teachers. Everyone should have to make sacrifices, we cannot continue to pay as much as we can for everyhing at all levels of government.

      • Administrators are being cut. Teachers are being cut. Class sizes are getting bigger. I don’t think education is the place to be balancing our budget. If anything, more money should be put into education. But…that’s a whole other battle.

  • Two things I don’t like about Walker’s power grab. First, he did not give any hint to voters that he was planning to gut collective bargaining. Clearly, he knew what he was planning to do, but was not honest with voters about his intent. He gave plenty of warning about cutting back on spending, and making tougher deals with state unions in the future, but said squat about changing the collective bargaining laws.

    Second, the choice of gutting collective bargaining throws the baby out with the bathwater. As you say in your post, Walker and the state could impose its last offer on the unions if they could not come to agreement; that is sufficient control over their contract, and meets Walker’s expressed goal of controlling the budget. Prohibiting unions from bargaining over anything but wages sticks it to the unions before they have a chance to make their pitch to the employer.

    A county or city employer cannot impose its last offer on county and municipal employees under current law, since these unions (and the employers) have the right to make their cases before an independent arbitrator if they arrive at impasse. Arbitrators clearly take into consideration the dire financial problems of the employer, and can also compare government workers compensation to that of private workers. Arbitration can keep both parties honest and reasonable in their offers, since neither party wants to present an outrageous offer which is likely to be rejected by the arbitrator.

    Wisconsin recognized the important role of public sector collective bargaining in achieving labor peace…..not just a safeguard against strikes, which are illegal. It recognized that parties sitting down and talking to each other about their conflicting and common interests can lead to a common good. Perhaps neither party is fully satisfied at the end, but both parties can live with it. Walker wants to impose a contract that is one-sided–only what the employer wants–without regard to the employees want.

    He thereby forfeits the goodwill and respect of public workers, and says “just be glad you have a job.” Public employees are not stupid, and recognize they are the lucky ones with jobs. But they do expect to be dealt with as adults with rights that have been the backbone of the relationship between the state and public employers for their entire lives. Changing the rules of the relationship so fundamentally, and without any significant debate, is autocratic and despotic, even if it is legal.

    The loss of meaningful collective bargaining is a loss to the employer and the public, as well as the employees. Unions can provide a service in educating their members about the facts of the governments’ financial crises, and working cooperatively with management to achieve a contract which is realistic. Many a union board has had to be the messenger to its members that their demands must be scaled back or they will lose it all in arbitration. Union leaders have risked their own support by honestly telling members that health insurance of the past is not the health insurance of the future. Employers being able to impose changes without even the opportunity to bargain shoves changes down peoples throat. People choke instead of swallow.

    Perhaps not all unions (think teachers) have not been honest with their members about the employers’ financial crises; perhaps they have not been willing or able to see the handwriting on the wall. But clearly they have now. Even the teachers union is finally admitting that they need to pay for a significant part of health insurance. I had hoped that this was Walker’s goal. Stage a gigantic bluff, to smack union leaders and members upside the head with a good dose of reality, and then like a reasonable and magnanimous leader of the entire state, he offers a compromise where both the budget and collective bargaining are preserved.
    I think I was wrong.

    Just because Walker has the power to impose his will doesn’t mean he should. I am disappointed in him, but also in the other republicans who seem not to be questioning any part of it. ( The sole exception I know of is Alberta Darling’s small caveat about the possible loss of federal funding for municipal buses.)

    • Yea, it seems like Walker really is going all in here and not using it as a huge card to force a compromise. It’s too bad. What do you think about the idea that unions and government don’t really have any incentive to cut since neither is really the one paying for the contract. It’s a fundamentally different relationship than private unions and i’m not sure how to change the incentives so that management (the state) is more able to negotiate closer to how private unions do with their employers.

      • I think it is important to remember that management has an obligation to bargain hard if it is doing its job. There has been so much complaining about the great deals that unions have gotten, but not enough focus on the governmental entities that agreed to it. It may be more a failure of government than greediness of the unions. It gets particularly tricky, however, when the employer has been coopted, such as school boards that have been packed with teachers union supporters primarily because nobody else cares who gets elected; we get the government that we deserve when we dont participate in elections.

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