'They haven't grasped the peril they're in.'
These are end times for public employee unions in Wisconsin and not just at the state government level. A new Republican regime at the State Capitol is taking dead aim at the government employee union entitlement.
Resistance is futile. Work stoppages, sick-ins, and strikes will only strengthen the reformers' hand. The government employee unions are being penalized for a generation of overreach.
The thread next door on the TDP Forum captures the dilemma: "The unions' self-inflicted death spiral."
That may have explained the defiant tone of unionized Madison public school teacher Mike Lipp.
Lipp introduced himself to the audience of 300 at the Community Conversation on Education last month at CUNA headquarters as the president of Madison Teachers Inc.
"That's a UNION!" Lipp told his audience of 300 parents, community leaders, and teachers. "I'm a member of a UNION!"
He emphasized the word "union" each time in an in-your-face way, as if he was carrying a stump-sized chip on his shoulder.
Lipp said he regretted not bringing the collective bargaining agreement with him, possibly to dazzle us with its supernatural powers, much like the Ark of the Covenant in an Indiana Jones pic. No doubt, the man sleeps with the holy writ at his bedside. I expect it looks something like the Torah, rendered in scroll form. The damn thing is 179 pages long!
Lipp said that before joining Madison Teachers Incorporated -- that's a UNION -- he was a member of the United Auto Workers. "A UNION."
I thought the juxtaposition jarring: to liken what ought to be a profession, teaching, with old-line, rote, industrial assembly-line work. Democratically elected legislatures, school boards, and city councils are not a Communist dictatorship arrayed against the proletariat in Solidarnosc.
That is the intrinsic problem with unions. It creates an adversarial relationship where none need exist. It reverts to the lowest common denominator. It rewards mediocrity and resists innovation, as the documentary movie, "Waiting for Superman," demonstrated.
No wonder education reformer Kaleem Caire would post a sign at the entrance to his proposed Madison Prep charter school: No Union Beyond This Point. At UW-Madison, Chancellor Biddy Martin is resisting Jim Doyle's unionization of college campuses.
The assembly line approach of "teaching to the contract" simply won't cut it.
It is probable that the new Walker Administration will give to municipalities and school districts the same flexibility in dealing with its government employees that the governor-elect seeks for state government. All it takes is a simple majority vote of the Republican Legislature and Scott Walker's signature. That is how collective bargaining rights were granted in the first place by Gov. Gaylord Nelson in 1959.
This would include the power to decertify the unions -- meaning, no more state employee unions and probably, at local option, no city, county, or school employee unions, either. This does not violate federal labor law because Washington has authority only over private industry, not other government agencies.
If just one Dane County school district decertified its employee union, that would create pressure on even Madison to do the same.
The state's newspapers are in tune with the voters. The Oshkosh Northwestern said Walker needs "maximum flexibility" to deal with the current $150 million shortfall and the impending $3.3 billion structural deficit forecasted for the 2010-2013 biennium budget.
Thursday, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said "the governor-elect is right to get tough with government employee unions."
Tough talk. But when it comes to the public employee unions, it's justified. There is little doubt that a fed-up public is on his side. In a statewide poll conducted last summer for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute's Refocus Wisconsin project, 76% thought that public employees should contribute to their pensions. Only 17% said it was understandable that they did not.
Walker's words are measured compared to those of some state employee union leaders. A recent memo to members of the Wisconsin Professional Employee Council, which represents about 5,000 state employees, raised the specter of strikes, slowdowns and sickouts.
Marc Eisen in the current Milwaukee Magazine writes that public employee unions look increasingly out of touch and may be forced to swallow wage and benefit cuts. What is the Milwaukee teachers union willing to go to the mattresses over? A longer school day? More intensive teaching? No, the MTEA wants court-ordered ... Viagra! Eisen writes:
... Here was a financially strapped school system struggling with an anticipated layoff of almost 500 teachers, and the clueless union was demanding insurance coverage of a sexual aid that could cost taxpayers more than $700,000 a year.
If the public employee unions were smart -- which they are not -- AFSCME's Marty Beil, Mike Lipp and MTI exec director John Matthews would step forward and take up Scott Walker's challenge to share the pain in a state with 8 percent unemployment, escalating taxes, flat private sector wages, a state government $3.3 billion in hock -- all amid a lingering recession.
Instead, they will choose confrontation and the public be damned.
Even Lefty academic Joel Rogers says, "They simply haven't grasped the peril they're in," as Eisen quotes him.
Better bennies than the average bear
- Walker wants to require state employees to contribute 5% of their salary to their pensions. Currently most state employees contribute nothing to their pension.
- Nationwide, all public and private employees pay an average of 29% of their annual health care premiums. State employees pay only 4% to 6% of their health care costs. By comparison, the average Wisconsin family bears 20% of the cost of coverage. Here is a breakdown.
Walker is treading a path already blazed by Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana. Now considered a presidential contender, one of his first acts upon taking office in January 2005 was to decertify the union, reversing an executive order issued by a predecessor, Evan Bayh, in 1990.
"We used to think of government workers as underpaid public servants. Now they are better paid than the people who pay their salaries," Daniels told Politico.
"It's a part of a very large question the nation's got to face," Daniels told Politico in an interview. "Who serves whom here? Is the public sector -- as some of us have always thought -- there to serve the rest of society? Or is it the other way around?"
Along the way, Wisconsin will become a right-to-work state, which would give private sector employees the freedom to choose whether they wanted to belong and pay union dues.
Except among its client base, the Democrat(ic) party, there is little opposition to redressing the union imbalance. Nationally, only 7.5 percent of private-sector workers are members of labor unions whereas over one-third of public-services workers belonged to unions. The surprise is that in many states, public employees are not unionized.
Think of it this way: the DNR water samplers, the city brush crew, and your local middle school faculty -- all work for us. We hire them, through our elected representatives, and we pay them with our taxes. Are we, the people, the hated malefactors of great wealth that FDR inveighed against 75 years ago?
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The best comment on Pat Schneider's paen to Z! Haukeness, the house squatter affiliated with "Operation Welcome Home," has been scrubbed. It went something like, "I'd like to grab that idiot by his braided ponytail and smack the smugness out of him."
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"If you touch my junk ..." is Number #1 of the 40 best conservative quotes of 2010.
Make a difference: Run for local elective office. In the Madison school district, teachers' union pawn Marj Passman is up. You have until January 4 to file papers.