There is a crisis in Wisconsin. It is not accidental. It is calculated. The crisis is not about state budget deficits; it is about weakening and breaking unions. Last week, Wisconsin’s governor, Republican Scott Walker, proposed a budget repair bill that directly weakens and attempts to break public sector unions. The bill strips unions’ ability to collectively bargain for compensation outside base pay (i.e. health care and pensions) and weakens their existence. The unions would be forced to vote every year on whether to disband or continue their existence. Additionally, unions would be disallowed from collecting union members’ mandatory dues. These collective bargaining measures do not aid Wisconsin in closing its budget shortfall. They only lay the trap for unions to lose dues funding and consequentially be disbanded by disgruntled union members during a forced annual vote. Wisconsin’s loss of union rights would be equivalent to Americans’ loss of the right to free association in the workplace.
Gov. Scott Walker claims that he has no alternative considering Wisconsin’s $137 million budget shortfall. However, the budget repair bill’s stripping of labor rights has no effect on closing Wisconsin’s $137 million budget shortfall. Neither do the first three bills that Gov. Walker signed into law this year. These bills, which extended tax cuts to businesses and expanded privatized health care, only worsened Wisconsin’s budget shortfall over the next few years. Gov. Walker’s budgetary rhetoric must be called into suspicion considering he signed laws that actually expand Wisconsin’s projected budget deficit.
In listening to Gov. Walker’s rhetoric, there is a false narrative of “greedy” public sector unions burdening taxpayers. This false narrative is promoted by many national conservatives and probably by my conservative counterpart, too. But, let us look at the impact of public sector unions, who represent state employees. Are these allegedly “greedy” public sector employees paying more than their private sector counterparts? A study by the Economic Policy Institute found the answer was “No.” The study controlled for employees’ experience, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, disability, educational level and hours of work. Across all levels of educational attainment, public sector employees were paid 5 percent less on an average than private sector employees. Public sector employees have the same mortgages and financial obligations as any private sector employees. There is no public sector overburden on society. There is only a sustained multi-decade attack on unions by the Republican Party.
Readers should have no illusions. What is happening in Wisconsin is part of a sixty-plus-year pattern of Republican anti-unionism. Anti-union activism is not a faction within the Republican Party. Anti-unionism is a defining feature of the whole Republican Party. For instance, last fall governor Walker proposed to “decertify” or disband all public unions by executive action of the governorship. That was until he realized the Wisconsin governor did not have such power to decertify. The public unions represent teachers, police, firefighters and public servants. The Wisconsin unions already agreed to increase their payment share for pension (estimated to save the budget $300 million), but they refuse to concede their union rights to collectively bargain. Wisconsin unions are flexible on solving the budget, now it is time for Gov. Walker to concede his drive to crush Wisconsin unions.