My parents live in Wisconsin and enjoy politics, but are not immersed in it to the insane level D.C. residents like me cannot avoid. So when we talked last night, mom and dad said they wanted to hear more political news about what’s happening in Wisconsin and what it means, especially because local news is not terribly incisive and a lot of the national discussion has devolved into talking points.
I was a nationally-ranked debater in high school and college, so thought I’d put together the quick-and-simple version, a sort of “easy-to-understand” version of the hundreds of debate briefs I’ve written. I’ll basically outline the arguments and happenings from both sides, and provide lots of links substantiating my claims and with more information for people who want to read further.
Normal people like mom and dad may not have time to untangle the foolish webs of blather the news media paste around, but I hope this simple list helps them understand the topic for their own benefit and to help with some neighborly conversations so that absurd leftwing talking points are not all the general public hears.
First, though, some amusement for the people who will invariably not read the whole brief. Some substantive information follows further down.
A Few Drive-by Bits of Information
I made the following YouTube playlist for people wanting a visual roundup.
Here are a few bits of interesting news.
- Union supporters are acting badly. What does this say about their ideas?
- So many teachers have “called in sick” to protest that the entire Madison-area school system was shut down for three days for lack of teachers. Yes, you care about the kids.
- Busing in out-of-state protesters from as far as New York, who, unlike normal wage-earners, get to rampage around the Capitol demanding Wisconsin tax dollars.
- Getting false sick leave notes from sympathetic doctors. Gov. Walker has said fake sick notes will be investigated and people fired if found lying.
- Steps bill supporters are taking to fight back include:
- Passing a rules change that Wisconsin legislators missing two or more session days will not receive their pay by direct deposit but must pick it up in person. This to help coax back the 14 Democratic senators who have been hiding in Illinois to stymie the bill’s passage.
- Sending the state police to the missing legislators’ houses in an effort to get them back to do their jobs.
- Kicking out the protesters from the state capitol, finally. Bill protesters have been basically living inside the capitol for the past week, singing, drumming, eating pizza, and generally becoming a large children’s summer camp: greasy, smelly, hungry, loud, and tired. So state senators are going to start restricting access to the hearing rooms and corridors.
- Beginning the recall process for seven senators still hiding outside the state attempting to shirk their votemaking responsibilities so Governor Walker’s bill can’t pass.
And here is a good list of articles to read for background and commentary.
- “Wisconsin Myths and Facts,” Matthew Shaffer, National Review.
- “Public Unions Must Go,” Jonah Goldberg, National Review.
- “Public unions force taxpayers to fund Democrats,” Michael Barone, Washington Examiner.
- “The Rise of the Adolescent Mind,” Victor Davis Hanson, Works and Days.
What, Exactly, Is Governor Walker Proposing? Walker’s proposal regarding unions—and not all unions: he excludes “public safety workers” like firemen and police—has two basic parts: first, he wants them to start paying for parts of their health insurance and pensions and, second, he wants collective bargaining on public-worker salaries curtailed.
Paying for Benefits: Most Americans pay into their own healthcare and pension plans (if a. they have a job at all and b. their job offers these benefits). Currently, state workers in Wisconsin pay nothing into their taxpayer-funded pension plans (See basics of the legislation here.) Walker wants these workers to instead pay half their pension payment a year—about 5.8 percent of salary, just below the national average of pension contributions— and also pay 12.6 percent of the annual cost of their healthcare premiums (also at about the national average for worker contributions). So, basically, Walker just wants state workers to stop getting a free ride—because the state of Wisconsin can’t afford it.
- Budget Deficit: Wisconsin has a $137 million budget deficit this year and a $3.6 billion deficit forecasted for the next budget cycle (until 2013). That basically means Wisconsin cannot pay one out of every five dollars it has planned to spend this year.
- Bottom Line: Walker’s request here is nothing absurd or out of the ordinary. Indeed, he’s trying to correct an extraordinary situation: state workers getting extra-big benefits, benefits very few private-sector workers enjoy, and on the taxpayer’s dime. These benefits have contributed vast amounts to Wisconsin’s current budget doom.
Collective Bargaining: Most rational people can see the need for Walker’s budget proposals above. Even the Democratic state senators who have fled the state to prevent the legislature from achieving the quorum necessary to proceed on voting have suggested compromising by adopting all the above changes, as long as Walker backs down on his second part of the proposal, to curtail collective bargaining on benefits increases. The big hullabaloo (and that’s no exaggeration: for nine days now, tens of thousands of people have been protesting in Madison) pertains to collective bargaining, the ability of unions to negotiate compensation as a group with public employers. Here are a few specifics. The plan would:
- Tie wage increases to the rate of inflation, unless Wisconsin voters approve a bigger raise.
- Limit contracts to one year and freeze wages until the new contract is settled.
- To maintain union certification, collective bargaining units (local union chapters) must take annual votes to ensure employees still want to be unionized and to negotiate with their employers through the union.
- Local union members would not be forced to pay dues by the state government, and the government would stop withholding union dues automatically from workers’ checks (so, basically, employees will not be forced into a union and unions have to collect their own monies rather than use the state government as their banking buddy).
This, they say, is the death knell for unions. And they may be right. But, you know what? That’s actually good for taxpayers, and good for America.
Wisconsin: Where Unions Go to Die? Before I explain why, let me include a little caveat. I do not think all unions are necessarily bad. During the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the century, employees worked in sometimes ghoulish conditions and for terrible pay. Of course I want all people everywhere to have exciting, meaningful work that pays well, and unions were initially created so poor employees had some means of negotiating with employers for a share of the profits they created. Nowadays, however, laws like the National Labor Relations Act set standards for most of the working norms unions originally sought to address, like nondescrimination, safety concerns, overtime, firing and hiring, et cetera. Really? I think the problem is that we don’t need unions any more, but unions don’t want to die. That’s why union membership in the private market has been declining for years, and now stands at 12.3 percent. See this chart from Mark Perry:
The chart also demonstrates that union membership in the public sector is increasing. And the near-riots in Wisconsin are only the bloom from an entire, rotting root system.
I support private employees negotiating any way they wish with their private employers on a level playing field for both. But the playing field for unions versus taxpayers is nowhere near level, and needs change. Here’s why.
1. Public-Sector Unions Bankrupt States and Enslave Taxpayers. States all over the union are facing budget holes bigger than any the nation has ever seen. These holes are driven by overspending in every area, including and centrally the outlandish pensions and benefits politicians have promised state workers in exchange for union support during elections. The national price tag is somewhere around $3 trillion in underfunded pensions alone.
This is only one consequence of the relationship between unions in public jobs and taxpayers: What unions get, taxpayers must give. It’s that simple. As Jonah puts it: “Government workers have an inherent interest in boosting the amount of federal tax dollars their local governments get. Put simply, people in the government business support the party of government. Which is why, as the Manhattan Institute’s Steven Malanga has been chronicling for years, public unions are the country’s foremost advocates for increased taxes at all levels of government.” Even FDR, who singlehandedly increased union power in America, recognized unions for government workers were absurd, because they pitted powerful interests against the American people.
2. Public-Sector Unions Fund Democrats with Taxpayer Dollars.
I’ll let Tim Carney take it here: “In the view of the Left, the Democrats are standing with the working man against the greedy. The acrid Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times that government unions provide a ‘counterweight to the political power of big money.’ Hard facts utterly contradict Krugman’s claim. First, unions are ‘Big Money.’ Of the top 10 sources of political contributions since 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, five are unions. Of the top 20 sources of 2010 campaign funds, 10 are unions. And the notion that Big Labor is cancelling [sic] out Big Business—well, that’s a Big Lie, too. The 10 industries that contributed the most during the 2010 elections—from Wall Street to government unions—all gave more to Democrats than to Republicans.”
3. Public-Sector Unions Limit Workers’ Freedoms.
This one is simple. Many public unions are “closed shop,” meaning an entering employee cannot choose whether he or she wishes to be in a union. The mother of a close friend works as a public school teacher in California. Every year, she writes a letter to the union which forcibly takes part of her salary for “dues.” She does not support their political agenda, which funds abortion-minded politicians. So she writes, knowing it’s a vain effort, asking that her dues not go towards promoting abortion. But, really, she has no choice. I just think that people ought to have freedom of choice in where they want their salaries to go, and whether unions benefit them or not. Aren’t unions about freedoms and rights, too? Apparently not.
Photo by CindyH Photography.