Wisconsin, Ohio Target Government Union Contracts
By Mark Niquette - Feb 18, 2011 7:25 AM PT
The Wisconsin Legislature may pass a bill as early as tomorrow restricting collective bargaining for public employees and requiring them to pay more health-care and pension costs. The plan prompted protests and even a sleep-in under the Capitol rotunda.
Similar efforts are under way by Republican governors including Chris Christie in New Jersey and John Kasich in Ohio as part of efforts to deal with deficits. States face gaps that may reach $125 billion next year, according to the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities.
“Wisconsin is broke, just like about every state is broke,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said today in a telephone interview. “It’s about time people have the courage to stand up, point that out, and do something about it.”
Walker said he has the legislative support to enact the bill and that “it passes, no doubt about it.”
Unions staged demonstrations at the Wisconsin and Ohio statehouses this week. Schools in the Wisconsin capital of Madison canceled classes today because 40 percent of the 2,600 union members called in sick, according to the Associated Press.
University of Wisconsin-Madison students and teaching assistants lay down in sleeping bags in the Capitol during a hearing that lasted until 3 a.m. today, and there was a second straight day of demonstrations -- including chants of “Recall Walker now” outside the governor’s office, the news service reported.
The right to negotiate through a union is “a fundamental underpinning of our middle class,” Phil Neuenfeldt, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO president, said in a statement. “Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of hard-working Wisconsinites, we need to come up with a balanced approach that looks at shared sacrifice from everyone.”
The bill would allow public workers except police and firefighters to bargain only for wages. It would require them to pay 5.8 percent of their pension costs -- they pay nothing now - - and 12 percent of health-care premiums, up from 6 percent, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said in a telephone interview.
Walker, a Republican elected last year, proposed the measure in response to a projected deficit of $137 million in the current fiscal year and $3.6 billion in the next biennium. The bill would allow the state to save $30 million in the current fiscal year and $300 million in the next biennium.
The alternative is firing up to 6,000 state employees, the governor said.
Fitzgerald said he expects the bill to reach Walker’s desk by the weekend. Republicans control the Assembly by a margin of 60 to 38 with one independent, and Republicans have a five-seat advantage in the Senate.
The bill wouldn’t affect employees until their contracts expire, said Peter G. Davis, general counsel of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.
Public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio are not required to join unions though they may be required to pay “fair share” dues if that provision is part of the contract where they work, said Davis and Sally Meckling, spokeswoman for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the largest state union.
Meanwhile, in Columbus
In Ohio, lawmakers are holding hearings on a bill to prohibit collective bargaining for all state workers and restrict it for other public employees, while abolishing salary schedules in favor of merit pay, according to an analysis by the Ohio Legislative Services Commission.
The state’s collective-bargaining law was passed in 1983 under Democratic leadership and the goal of the current effort is to “restore some balance between management and labor,” Kasich told reporters yesterday.
Firefighters, police officers, teachers and other public employees crowded into the Ohio Statehouse yesterday to oppose the bill as a Senate committee heard testimony from proponents.
Witnesses with opposing views are scheduled tomorrow. The Ohio Liberty Council, a coalition of about 60 Tea Party groups, said in a statement that it plans to rally at the statehouse against what it called “one of Ohio’s most important threats -- the prosperity-killing public-employee unions and collective bargaining.”
In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the state's budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.
To the extent that there is an imbalance -- Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit -- it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January.
What Most People Don't Understand About the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill
I have been attending the rallies, watching the coverage, reading the blogs and comments and come to the conclusion that most people don't know the true horror of this bill. I have come to set the record straight particularly when I saw a Front Page Diary here on Daily Kos that, again, talks about this bill only affecting state workers.
There is no fiscal crisis in Wisconsin. Governor Walker reports a nearly 130 million dollar deficit, but doesn't report that he caused it by giving a 140 million dollar tax break to large multinational corporations here in Wisconsin (e.g. WalMart). However, this cover story gives him an excuse to do the unthinkable.
State workers in Wisconsin have been without contracts for some time. The latest agreement (containing major concessions) was not passed by the State Legislature last year due to political maneuvering which led one Democrat to vote against it (he was later rewarded with a position in the new Walker administration).
But that's not really what I came to talk about. I came to talk about a so-called Budget Repair Bill to solve a fake budget crisis without addressing the budget at all.
So, what's in the bill? Prohibition of any unions or collective bargaining for most state workers. Those that continue to have any union representation at all will be limited to bargaining for wages only which will have a mandatory limit which will be set annually by the State Legislature. So, basically, the boss will tell you how much you are permitted to ask for.
No collective bargaining over insurance (so employees can be given high deductible junk insurance with no say in the matter), benefits, pensions, holidays or personal days, vacation, working conditions, adequate staffing, class size, worker safety issues, mandatory overtime, shift selection, requests for days off, etc.
If that wasn't bad enough, union dues would no longer be collected through payroll deduction so the unions would have to collect the dues themselves member by member. On top of that, unions would need to recertify every year . This is the same process that is used when employees band together to form a union in the first place; a process already so onerous and difficult (therefore, profitable to the many union-busting firms across this country) that new unions and locals are rarely formed.
Think that's bad? The real hidden horror is that Scott Walker didn't stop with state employees, but extended the impact of the bill to all city, town, village, and county employee in the State of Wisconsin. That's the real reason that thousands of public employees are in Madison. It's why non-public employee unions are supporting us. It's why students, patients, and citizens in general have joined us.
I'm just a retired Milwaukee Country Registered Nurse. My voice doesn't count. Sometimes I wonder if all my activism counts. But my voice and my activism count today as I join with thousands of proud Wisconsinites to protest the rise of a Dictator.
I hope I've educated you to the realities of this bill. Thanks for all the support, comments, and love that we get here. Kossack love is like no otherr.
every public employee, except cops and firefighters...
why are they special?
Do you ever read Ann Althouse's blog? She's a law professor from Madison - an Obama supporter - and is directly affected by the recent events. Although I'm not a regular reader, I generally check in whenever there's news from that area of the country. She can be both amusing and pithy.
So maybe we public employees in Wisconsin are a great target — a great starting place for what is a national movement by the Republicans. I'm trying to understand the party politics. Tell me if this is correct: There are vast numbers of public employees, who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Once elected, the Democrats create more and more public jobs with greater and greater benefits, and, consequently, more voters who are even more locked into voting for Democrats. This is a cycle that approaches political graft, and the Republicans, to win, must overcome all those passionate, self-interested Democratic voters. Why wouldn't the Republicans embrace a strategy hostile to the public employees? Why wouldn't they drive a wedge between the public employees and all the other citizens in the state?
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said his Democratic peers "are burning a serious bridge" by leaving the state to stall passage of Gov. Walker's budget repair bill. Troopers were sent to Minority Leader Mark Miller's home, but there was no answer, so they headed back to the Capitol. http://host.madison.com/wsj/
Because their unions supported Walker in the last election, that's why.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived around noon Friday, speaking to the near-capacity crowd for about 5 minutes. From the second level of the Capitol rotunda, he led the crowd in chants including "Save the teachers. Save the children." Protesters swayed as Jackson led them in a rendition of the song, "We Shall Overcome." More
Posted at 9:36 AM ET, 02/18/2011
Unions aren't to blame for Wisconsin's budget
By Ezra Klein
Let's be clear: Whatever fiscal problems Wisconsin is -- or is not -- facing at the moment, they're not caused by labor unions. That's also true for New Jersey, for Ohio and for the other states. There was no sharp rise in collective bargaining in 2006 and 2007, no major reforms of the country's labor laws, no dramatic change in how unions organize. And yet, state budgets collapsed. Revenues plummeted. Taxes had to go up, and spending had to go down, all across the country.
Blame the banks. Blame global capital flows. Blame lax regulation of Wall Street. Blame home buyers, or home sellers. But don't blame the unions. Not for this recession.
Of course, the fact that public-employee pensions didn't cause a meltdown at Lehman Brothers doesn't mean they're not stressing state budgets, and that the pensions they've been promised don't exceed what state budgets seem able to bear. But the buildup of global capital that overheated the American housing sector and got packaged into seemingly riskless financial products that then brought down Wall Street, paralyzing the economy, throwing millions out of work, and destroying the revenues from state income and sales taxes even as state residents needed more social services? The answer to that is not to end collective bargaining for (some) public employees. A plus B plus C does not equal what Gov. Scott Walker is attempting in Wisconsin.
In fact, it particularly doesn't work for what Walker is attempting in Wisconsin. The Badger State was actually in pretty good shape. It was supposed to end this budget cycle with about $120 million in the bank. Instead, it's facing a deficit. Why? I'll let the state's official fiscal scorekeeper explain (pdf):
More than half of the lower estimate ($117.2 million) is due to the impact of Special Session Senate Bill 2 (health savings accounts), Assembly Bill 3 (tax deductions/credits for relocated businesses), and Assembly Bill 7 (tax exclusion for new employees).
In English: The governor called a special session of the legislature and signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things). The new legislation was not offset, and it turned a surplus into a deficit. As Brian Beutler writes, "public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda."
But even that's not the full story here. Public employees aren't being asked to make a one-time payment into the state's coffers. Rather, Walker is proposing to sharply curtail their right to bargain collectively. A cyclical downturn that isn't their fault, plus an unexpected reversal in Wisconsin's budget picture that wasn't their doing, is being used to permanently end their ability to sit across the table from their employer and negotiate what their health insurance should look like.
That's how you keep a crisis from going to waste: You take a complicated problem that requires the apparent need for bold action and use it to achieve a longtime ideological objective. In this case, permanently weakening public-employee unions, a group much-loathed by Republicans in general and by the Republican legislators who have to battle them in elections in particular. And note that not all public-employee unions are covered by Walker's proposal: the more conservative public-safety unions -- notably police and firefighters, many of whom endorsed Walker -- are exempt.
If you read Walker's State of the State address, you can watch him hide the ball on what he's doing. "Our upcoming budget is built on the premise that we must right size our government," he said. "That means reforming public employee benefits -- as well as reforming entitlement programs and reforming the state’s relationship with local governments." Not a word on his actual proposal, which is to end collective bargaining for benefits.
If all Walker was doing was reforming public employee benefits, I'd have little problem with it. There's too much deferred compensation in public employee packages, and though the blame for that structure lies partially with the government officials and state residents who wanted to pay later for services now, it's true that situations change and unsustainable commitments require reforms. But that's not what Walker is doing. He's attacking the right to bargain collectively -- which is to say, he's attacking the very foundation of labor unions, and of worker power -- and using an economic crisis unions didn't cause, and a budget reversal that Walker himself helped create, to justify it.
And it's not as if public employees aren't hurting. In the Wisconsin budget report I quoted earlier, the state's fiscal bureau goes on to survey the state of the economy. "Going forward, Global Insight expects private sector payrolls to grow by 2.1 million in 2011, 2.6 million in 2012, and 2.5 million in 2013. Projected cutbacks in the number of public sector employees, however, are expected to partially offset those private sector gains. In 2010, the number of state and local government employees fell by an estimated 208,000 positions. In 2011, those cutbacks are expected to total an additional 150,000 positions." In other words, private jobs are coming back, but state and local jobs are still being lost. Public-employee unions are on the mat. Walker is trying to make sure they don't get back up.
By Ezra Klein | February 18, 2011; 9:36 AM ET
Fox News' coverage of the Wisconsin protests over Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to eliminate public employees' collective bargaining rights, among other things, has been marked with repeated attacks on the protesters. However, by contrast, Fox has relentlessly promoted and even encouraged viewers to participate in tea party and "Tax Day" protests over the past few years.
Wisconsin's new Republican governor has framed his assault on public worker's collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times.
The reality is radically different. Unlike true austerity measures -- service rollbacks, furloughs, and other temporary measures that cause pain but save money -- rolling back worker's bargaining rights by itself saves almost nothing on its own. But Walker's doing it anyhow, to knock down a barrier and allow him to cut state employee benefits immediately.
Furthermore, this broadside comes less than a month after the state's fiscal bureau -- the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office -- concluded that Wisconsin isn't even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.