Last week when the Wisconsin state senate passed a modified version of the budget repair bill, Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent wrote: "Wisconsin Repubicans took the drastic step of breaking up the budget repair bill and passing only a measure rolling back the collective bargaining rights of public employees."
The problem with that sentence is that it's not true. The bill passed that night included both the measure curtailing collective bargaining and the provision requiring public employees to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits.
This isn't a minor issue. Democrats thought it would be a potent talking point if Republicans only passed the collective bargaining restrictions:
Democrats were accusing [Walker] of including the collective bargaining restrictions for no other reason than to weaken unions, saying the collective bargaining provisions had no fiscal impact. On the surface, separating the bills would seem to validate this criticism, although no one knows better than union bosses just how important a tool limiting collective bargaining would be to reducing expenditures on public employees.
bogus" Republican TV ad that "badly distorts the history of the Wisconsin standoff."A week later, the Washington Post blogger still hasn't gotten around to correcting this glaring factual inaccuracy in his own report.* But he has found time to attack what he calls a "
The ad by Republican senator Randy Hopper, who is a top target of Democratic recall efforts, claims:
Another day, another protest in Madison. With nearly eight percent unemployment, you’d think asking government workers for five percent towards their retirement and 12 percent for their health care costs would be acceptable. It’s reasonable. But union bosses want to keep bargaining for more perks.
again, the unions themselves have said those concessions are acceptable -- union leaders agreed to them way back in February. But this makes it sound as if unions unreasonably refused to agree to them
The reality is much more complicated than Sargent lets on. Yes, union leaders said they'd agree to these concessions. But at the very same time, local unions were rushing through contracts that did not include those concessions.
More importantly, Walker's bill did not require public school teachers or local government employees to pay more for their health insurance premiums, it only required them to pay more for their pensions. The bill got rid of the collective bargaining for benefits in order to give local governments and school districts the option of making employees pay more for health benefits. (Enacting these benefits changes would allow school districts to make up for reductions in state aid.) In other words, the statewide teachers' union made a promise it didn't really have the authority to make. The decision to concede on health benefits ultimately rested with local unions.
And there's the rub. Walker always argued that curtailing collective bargaining was a necessary step in order to ensure that during a budget crunch school districts were able to choose benefits reductions over massive layoffs--a choice that had rested with the teachers' unions under collective bargaining agreements.
Sargent's other criticism of the Republican ad is that it
traffics in the myth of the overpaid public employee, decrying a “union bus driver in Madison making $160,000 a year.” But this, too, is a distortion: It turns out that this is not the bus driver’s annual salary at all. Rather, as local Wisconsin media reported widely, he made that money because he put in lots of overtime, clocking nearly 4,000 hours last year, and the manager of the Madison metro transit system said the driver did nothing wrong.
The bus driver did make $160,000 in a year (and of course, that public employee's pension will be based on his highest paid years). "the union bus driver in Madison, making $160,000 a year, much of it from overtime due to collective bargaining."
The real issue here is that Sargent apparently thinks that it's not unreasonable for taxpayers to pay $160,000 in one year for a bus driver, when many people think it would be more reasonable to hire three bus drivers for $53,000 per year.
the city of Madison went to the bus drivers union last year and said the rules allowing the highest-paid bus drivers to snap up the most overtime had become a major problem. Turns out the union agreed, and renegotiated a deal to limit overtime in a way that has left Metro Transit happy. And guess what: That deal was negotiated through collective bargaining.
The point is that some reporters have done more than political advertisements to distort the history of the Wisconsin standoff.