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Scott Walker's Views on Collective Bargaining No Surprise

10:30 AM, Feb 23, 2011 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Andrew Sullivan caught a give-and-take between me and Juan Williams on Fox News on Monday night and raises a fair objection.

Scott Walker's Views on Collective Bargaining No Surprise

Williams criticized Wisconsin governor Scott Walker for his unwillingness to negotiate with unions on collective bargaining. I responded: “You shouldn't have compromise. Why would you compromise? Scott Walker ran on this. The Republicans ran on this. The Democrats criticized them in the campaign back before November is 2nd. They put up flyers. The teachers' unions went after them. This is what he ran on – he ran on changing the way public unions are dealt with and also the way the way they treat the budget. He is doing what he said.”

In response, Sullivan writes: “Last night, I heard on Fox News from Stephen Hayes that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker had run on a platform to end collective bargaining rights for public sector unions. I can find no evidence of this in the public record. It isn't on his campaign platform where he deals with ‘government spending and reform’. It's clear that he vowed to slash pay and benefits for public sector unions…But not end their collective bargaining rights on everything but wages.”

And last night, Politifact Wisconsin, published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, weighed in and rated Walker’s claims that he campaigned on these changes as “false.”

My claim, however, was probably too vague, especially in the context of the argument Williams was making. Walker certainly ran on cutting the deficit and requiring concessions from public employees to help him. And anyone familiar with Walker’s efforts to balance budgets as Milwaukee county executive would understand that collective bargaining requirements made his task nearly impossible. But as Sullivan and Politifact point out, Walker’s campaign materials, which were quite detailed, did not highlight the specific proposal on collective bargaining (eliminating it for everything but wages) in the budget repair bill.

That said, it’s simply not accurate to rate Walker’s claim that he campaigned on what he is now doing as “false.” In fact, he did campaign on much of what he is now doing. And while the specific collective bargaining proposal in the budget repair bill was not a regular line in his stump speech, it was also no secret that he would make significant changes to Wisconsin’s collective bargaining rules.

The Politifact/Journal Sentinel rating suggests otherwise. “It seemed to us like the first public hint Walker gave that he was considering eliminating many union bargaining rights was at a Dec. 7, 2010 Milwaukee Press Club forum, some four weeks after the election.” 

Really? That claim is undermined by the paper’s own reporting. On August 30, the Journal Sentinel ran an article on plans by Walker and Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, his Democratic opponent, to save the state money by revamping health insurance plans for public employees. The reporter spoke to Ryan Murray, a top policy adviser for the Walker campaign, who explained the candidate’s plan. “The way the proposal would work is we would take the choice out of the collective bargaining process," Murray said.

So does taking the choice out of the collective bargaining process mean ending it for health care? The reporter certainly seemed to think so. “[Murray] said school districts often have some of the most expensive health benefits in Wisconsin and could receive cheaper insurance through the state if they didn't have to negotiate with unions about who would insure their members.” (Emphasis added.)

What was clear to the reporter was also clear to the teachers’ unions. “Our members oppose taking away their rights to collective bargaining, so they would definitely raise their voices against it,” said Christina Brey, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the union leading protests today. (Emphasis added.)

Although the Politifact/Journal Sentinel evaluation of Walker’s claims makes reference to this story, the paper failed to include this rather significant quote in its write up.

So a top Walker adviser made an on-the-record comment that both a reporter and a union representative understood as meaning an end to collective bargaining. And another teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, found Murray’s comment so threatening that they included it in a flyer warning teachers to vote against Walker who, they claimed, wanted to “void parts of labor contracts.”

The paper followed up on September 13:

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate, each have proposals to lower health benefit costs.

Walker wants to make it easier for school districts and local governments to buy insurance through a state-run health benefits program. Barrett would require local governments to insure their workers through a similar program, and he is interested in having schools eventually do the same.

How much money the proposals would save is a question. But both would require legislation. That's because current state law makes it difficult if not impossible to make any changes in health benefits without the approval of the unions that represent government workers. Under state law, health benefits that are part of an employee's total compensation are subject to collective bargaining. 

So Walker’s campaign proposal to lower costs by changing the health care benefits of public employees would “require legislation” because the law “makes it difficult if not impossible to make any changes” outside of the collective bargaining process.

Sounds like precisely what Walker is doing now, no?

What’s more, as Milwaukee county executive, Walker used every legal means he could to circumvent collective bargaining procedures. In a Journal-Sentinel article that ran on October 29, 2010, just three days before the election, Richard Abelson, head of the local AFSCME chapter, accused Walker then of doing as county executive what he’s trying to do as governor. “The premise is still that they want to bypass collective bargaining and adopt wages and working conditions through the budget process.”

So contrary to the claims of Politifact/Journal-Sentinel, Walker’s press conference on December 7 was not the “first public hint” that he would seek to end some public employee union collective bargaining. (And the paper didn’t report it as a mere hint, suggesting that Walker was considering “essentially abolishing state employee unions” and that he “is following the path of other fiscally conservative governors, such as Indiana Republican Mitch Daniels, who used an executive order to rescind collective bargaining and union settlements for state employees on his first day in office in 2005.”) If Walker did not campaign on the specific collective bargaining proposal in his budget repair bill, it was no secret that Walker would be proposing dramatic changes to the state’s relationship with its employees – changes that the paper’s own reporting made clear would include collective bargaining.

As AFSCME’s Abelson said in the Journal-Sentinel’s article on that very press conference: “His union-busting attitude shouldn't surprise anybody.”

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