Wisconsin has made national headlines this week due to newly elected Governor Scott Walker‘s political posturing. If you are unfamiliar with the goings on in Wisconsin, simply try a Bing!, Google, or Yahoo! search string like, “scott walker AND education.” You will find plenty of hits, including the following link from yesterday that supports my thesis: “Walker rejects offer to ‘take cuts, leave rights,’ (Accessed February 20, 2011, St. Paul Pioneer Press. Originally published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, February 19, 2011).
To recap, Governor Walker has proposed to subordinate collective bargaining rights for nearly all unionized public employees in Wisconsin, with the exception of firefighters and police officers . Roughly 180,000 state employees including teachers, the majority of the affected population, but by far not the only affected group, will effectively lose any meaningful collective bargaining rights in addition to taking somewhat small (dependent upon income) benefits cuts to the tune of 5% or 10%, in many cases resulting in a reduction in take home pay.
My primary concern is the apparent attack on unions and unionized teachers in particular. It would seem that the proposal is disingenuous if Walker is really trying to “resolve the budget crisis,” as he claims. Why target only the unionized employees? Why strip them of collective bargaining rights when the employees (see above article link) are willing to make concessions in order to retain their rights? Why not propose cuts for ALL state employees, including salaried and elected officials? Without having done the math, I would imagine that if all state employees made modest concessions, the so-called crisis would be averted.
If the state is in such a critical mess (I think our budget deficit in MN is worse, and the only discussion here is pay freeze) then ALL employees of the state and the people, thus the governor; legislators; judges; fire and police workers (who are explicitly left out of this proposal) must take the cuts; otherwise, this is nothing more than posturing and political rhetoric with the sole aim of weakening collective bargaining rights, destroying unions, and ultimately giving more money to those who already have it while returning hourly employees to a nineteenth or early twentieth century position of poor wages, poor working conditions, and no benefits.
No, these are not easy times, and they do not call for simple solutions such as Governor Walker proposes. Governors such as Walker and Kasich need to be willing to discuss cuts with employees and will earn more credibility with the people if they propose further cuts for themselves and ALL state employees, whether members of unions or not. Public employees DO need to make some concessions, but they should not be forced to swallow a bitter pill with no ability to negotiate their positions.
Folks, take a look at the income and benefits that your salaried state employees and elected officials take home…take a look at what public safety workers receive. In Wisconsin, at least, the proposal doesn’t include any cuts or changes for any of these folks. I guess if you are willing to support Governor Walker’s proposal then you are really consenting with him that firefighters and police officers are somehow more important and more deserving than public works employees and teachers. I suppose you believe that judges are entitled to and have “earned” their $170,000 plus annual salaries because they are more important than sewer workers and teachers, and I suppose that the legislators, many of whom have “day jobs” are entitled to the pay and benefits they receive because they are far more important than teachers and bus drivers.
Really folks, think about it for a minute. As these proposals stand, if you support them as they are, you support the above statements as well. Let’s be sensible, reasonable, and value ALL of the people who work hard to make our states great, and let’s give everyone a chance to make concessions instead of forcing some people to make concessions because it’s the easiest and most politically expedient thing to do. Amen.