Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s new governor, has brought on a showdown with public sector unions and their Democratic allies in his state. He seeks to get most state workers to pay for their pension and health benefits, to narrow collective bargaining to wages, to stop the state from collecting union dues, and to require annual union certification elections. In response, the unions have launched two weeks of angry protests in Madison, the state’s capital.
According to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the top lobbying group in Wisconsin for the 2009-2010 session of the legislature was the Wisconsin Education Assocation, which as of August 20, 2010 had spent 10,462 hours and $2,143,588 lobbying state lawmakers.
Most of the focus on public employee unions emphasizes the fact that states are going bankrupt and that states can’t continue to give these unions the almost obscene perks they have gotten in the past. But that misses the more fundamental point.
Madison, Wisc. "For the next minute or so, we're gonna have a good motherf---in' time!" musician Tom Morello told the crowd gathered outside the state capitol this afternoon. "I'm sorry if there are some children in the audience, but the struggle for justice is not always rated PG-13."
There were indeed dozens of schoolchildren scattered throughout the crowd. Some used protest signs as sleds to slide down the snow-covered hills outside the capitol. Others noshed on macaroni and cheese pizza, which was supplied for free by Ian's Pizza on State Street out of solidarity with those protesting pending legislation to curtail collective bargaining and require public workers to pay more for health insurance and pensions.
Over at Reason,Tim Cavanaugh has a lengthy piece in the current issue on California's struggles to rein in public unions. Even though it must have been written well in advance of the current foofaraw in Wisconsin, the timing couldn't be better. Cavanaugh makes the oft-overlooked point public employee unions are such a fiscal black hole that it's nearly impossible to spend money on any of the other ambitious and expensive programs frequently advocated by progressives:
As 72-year-old Jerry Brown enters his second governorship, he has an agenda to match that power, with visions even greater than those that haunted his two-term administration of the 1970s and ’80s: building 20,000 megawatts of renewable power, laying a new high-speed rail network that will connect the state’s major cities, forging a statewide infrastructure for alternative energy, hiring thousands of green employees. The new governor’s environmental agenda is ambitious, untenably expensive, and indelibly popular with voters and lawmakers.
On Sunday, Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Educational Association Council, instructed the teachers in her union to return to the classroom after many of them skipped school for three days last week. The unexpected move energized Republicans in Wisconsin, who took it as a sign that negative public reaction to the “sick-out” is making a difference.
Or perhaps they don’t need the numbers because the unions are bringing in additional reinforcements. Madison, one of the most liberal cities in the United States, is a town always in search of a cause.
In my post yesterday on the optics of the Wisconsin union battle, I noted in passing that FDR was quite vocally opposed to the creation of public sector unions. Roosevelt was an ardent supporter of unionism generally, but even he thought the idea of using collective bargaining against taxpayers was transparently problematic.
Somewhere, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is grinning past his cigarette holder at Wisconsin's governor. They are on the same page regarding government unions.
Except that Scott Walker -- Republican cheapskate, his visage Hitlerized on signs waved by beet-faced union crowds besieging the Capitol -- is kind of a liberal squish compared to FDR. He's OK with some collective bargaining.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has issued a statement in response to the Senate Democrats' departure from the state to avoid a vote on legislation that would require public union employees to pay more for their health insurance and pensions:
As with many SNL skits, it's a bit on-the-nose and runs too long, but I applaud the spirit and smiled a couple times. An able-bodied host on 100-percent disability introduces a surly DMV worker who takes pride in going full days without helping anyone, an elevator inspector working two government jobs and pulling disability for a fear of cats, and a school custodian whose union contract stipulates he doesn't have to "clean" schools.