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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.”

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