Governor Walker said on February 11, 2011 that 5500 to 6000 employees would be laid off if the Wisconsin legislature did not reform the wage and benefit process for Wisconsin state employees. The legislature was prepared to follow through with Governor Walker’s request when suddenly the Democratic state senators fled the state to avoid a quorum. Without a quorum, there can be no vote. Now Wisconsin faces the real possibility that 5500 state employees will receive layoff notices next week.
The teacher’s union came to the forefront of this dispute when they walked out of the classroom and took to the streets in Madison to protest what President Obama called an assault on unions. The teacher’s union in Wisconsin has invested its future in the Democratic Party. It was a costly investment funded through union dues paid by teachers who are ultimately paid by Wisconsin taxpayers. Taxpayers are fed up with uncontrolled spending by their elected officials, and have now turned their sights on the unions. Wisconsin surveys have shown that more than 60 percent think unions should make concessions on benefits and pensions.
Looking back, it is not difficult to see how Wisconsin found itself in a difficult situation with public service employees. Political leaders have empowered public service employees to feel entitled to benefits that the private sector does not have. It should be no shock that the public service employees are angry and have taken to the streets in protests. It would have been easy to avoid this train wreck, if only the negotiating parties had taken into consideration the interests of the taxpayers before entering into collective bargaining agreements. It would have been fairly easy to do financial projections to determine whether the benefits were sustainable in the long term. Furthermore, the teachers have created their own public relations nightmare by walking out of the classroom.
But politics, not the taxpayers, created this problem. Wisconsin unions have directed nearly 95 percent of their contributions to Democrats only. Unions have all their eggs invested in one basket, the Democrats. It was a nice gig while it lasted. The unions gave money to the Democratic politicians, and the Democratic politicians in return stood up for the unions. Ultimately, however, all public employees work for the taxpayers and eventually the taxpayers who work in the private sector are going to take notice that public service employees have better benefits and pensions than those in the private sector. It was from the start, an unholy alliance that failed to take into consideration the opinions and concerns of Wisconsin taxpayers.
The White House has to handle this situation very delicately. If anyone in the White House working on government time is using the telephone to organize or direct opposition to Wisconsin legislation, they are potentially in violation of federal law. Meanwhile, President Obama has his own fiscal crisis and, unlike last year, he has no choice but to compromise with the Republicans.
Furthermore, many other states are facing budget deficits and are waiting to see what happens in Madison. Democracy works when elected officials participate. If a budget isn’t passed by end of next week, 5500 notices will likely go out to state employees informing them that they are laid off. I don’t think the employees who receive those notices are going to be happy because they, at least in part, received layoff notices because Democratic senators from Wisconsin decided to flee the state in order to block a vote. Unions have many problems with the governor’s proposal, but the real rub is the proposal would limit collective bargaining to the issue of wages and cap increases to the rate of inflation, with a voter referendum needed for bigger increases. It also would end government collection of union dues, allow workers to opt out of unions, and require unions to hold recertification votes every year.
This is a potentially explosive situation that pits the unions against the taxpayers. It also sets up the Obama 2012 election battleground.Powered by Sidelines