Public workers in Wisconsin are about to get a big pay cut. Please, don't let the GOP talking points lead you to believe otherwise. And as you might expect from Republican policy, the poorer the worker, the bigger the cut.
Walker is doubling the amount of money taken out of public workers' checks for their health care benefits, regardless of income. For high-wage workers -- and there are some in local and state government -- the increased contribution only amounts to a cut of a few percent. For the average worker, it means an eight percent cut. For the lowest-wage employees, however, the cut could be absolutely devastating.
Rep. Fred Clark, who is running against Sen. Luther Olsen in a recall just north of here, says he recently talked to a school aide who makes $17,000 a year, for whom the benefit changes will amount to a 25% pay cut. Undoubtedly, many workers like her will drop out of the insurance program altogether.
The genius of the conservative case against good public employee benefits is that it distracts voters in the private sector from the real issue -- the overall compensation of public workers -- and gets them to focus on the generous benefits.
In fact, I just heard a public worker who makes $10/hr call in to the radio to talk about how he can't afford the state health care plan, and so he is in BadgerCare. His story will become much more common in the coming months, with an added twist: Fewer people will be allowed to enroll in BadgerCare.
It is frustrating that Republicans don't acknowledge the burden they are placing on the poorest public workers, but it is also irritating how little we've heard from Democrats and unions on the issue. I get it -- a union is supposed to look out for all its members, but its most vulnerable should be at the top of the agenda. If the rhetoric about defending "working families" had been more specific, Democrats could have been more successful at making the issue resonate with workers in the private sector.
Wisconsin has one of the highest rates of insured people in the country. It will be interesting to see where we stand a year from now.
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