On Wednesday, I predicted that the governor would propose that government employee unions could no longer engage in collective bargaining in employment contract negotiations.
Judging by the clatter, I owe visitors to the Stately Manor some background. I know that the ability to negotiate pensions and health insurance benefits will be removed from collective bargaining. You can take that to the bank.
I believe this will hold true for all public employees from state government through schools and municipal government. I have indications, emanations that the governor will go further. But -- just to put to rest that I am serving as a stalking horse for anybody -- I have not been told that by any direct authority.
If collective bargaining is taken away, will there be exceptions for certain unions? Say, public safety? We'll just have to see when the announcement is made on Friday.
Ed Garvey over at Ol' Fighting Bob is one-upping my prediction:
Walker will eliminate all positive aspects of Wisconsin's Family Leave Act and then next week announce that they will kill the public employee unions; kill public pensions; make deep cuts in local aid, schools, etc.
I had not heard the Family Leave Act thing. If he can discern "positive aspects" then he must acknowledge negative aspects. I do know the Act can be a headache to administer.
Notice that Ed has the union announcement next week. Hmm.
The "deep cuts" in local aid and schools aids are pretty much givens. The state is in a $3.6 billion budget hole. All the accounting tricks have been tried, all the segregated funds have been raided (and must be paid back), all the one-time stimulus money has been expended.
That is why the governor is going to remove two of the most costly items from collective bargaining.
What I do not understand -- and I freely admit this -- is if only health insurance and pension benefits are taken off the bargaining table, as they most certainly will, isn't that like squeezing the balloon? Won't union negotiators then work on increasing pay, shortening the work week, reducing class size, etc. to compensate? After all, there would be nothing to prevent the state from imposing the entire costs of health insurance and pensions on its employees.
Which the state will not do. I am convinced that government employees will continue to be well compensated, given the financial constraints. And notice, this governor is not talking about reducing head count, in contrast to his predecessor.
A carve-out for cops, et al?
Twelve state governments, including North Carolina and Virginia, prohibit collective bargaining rights of their government employees and another 12 allow it only for some unions. Is it possible that Gov. Walker will carve out, say, police, fire and corrections workers, as an exception?
Tommy Thompson's worst nightmare was that the corrections officers would walk. Understand that the Fitzgerald brothers who control both houses of the Legislature have the Fox Lake correctional institution in their districts. What's more, their father, a former sheriff and federal marshal, is now head of the State Patrol.
One other factor: the new head of the State Employment Relations division is one Gregory Gracz, former head of the Milwaukee firefighters union.
How 'strong' will the union response be?
But I now pose this possibility: the governor will ask the Legislature to eliminate only health insurance and pension bargaining but hold back on completely de-authorizing government employee unions for now. That may be a more manageable pill for the Legislature to swallow on the first go-around. It is a card he can hold for the future. How union activists behave now will determine whether he plays that card later.
The unions are already poised to protest. Ed announces a rally for 11:30 a.m. Monday, Valentine's Day, at the Milwaukee state office building, 819 James Lovell St.
"Get ready for strong response to this divisive and destructive attack," Ed warns.
I also think it significant that the governor has not sent anyone to negotiate a new contract with the unions after turning back, in the waning days of the Doyle administration, the contract negotiated for the fiscal biennium that ends June 30.
The governor's people note that most state workers pay only 6 percent of the premium costs for health care. He wants 12 percent, which is still less than half the national average of 29 percent paid by all employees, public and private (according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study).
And public employees in Wisconsin pay nothing for their defined benefit pensions. Private sector employees are lucky if their employers match half of their contributions for a defined contribution retirement accounts.