Even as thousands of protesters turned out in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital, once again, Republicans in the state assembly voted to weaken the collective bargaining powers of state workers on Thursday.
Republicans in the state senate approved the measure in a controversial move Wednesday evening, getting around a Democratic walkout by stripping financial provisions from the budget repair bill.
Opposition members had fled to neighboring Illinois to prevent the legislature from attaining a quorum and enacting reforms which they believe constitute an unnecessary attack on the rights of public employees. Republicans were able to move ahead by voting only on the nonfinancial aspects of Governor Scott Walker’s fiscal plan.
The Wisconsin governor has defied union protests to enact deep spending cuts and force public workers to contribute a greater part of their income to pension and health-care savings — changes that, according to the governor, would put them more in line with the private sector.
What sparked the demonstrations was Walker’s intention to forbid public workers from bargaining collectively except for pay increases that match inflation. Public sector workers could still organize but unions would be prohibited from requiring them to pay dues.
Opponents of the governor’s agenda allege that the state’s budget woes were wholly caused by his tax relief for businesses — which is simply untrue. Wisconsin will have to cope with a $3.6 billion shortfall over the next two years. Walker’s tax cuts haven’t even taken effect yet.
One labor leader described the Republicans’ move as “beyond reprehensible and possibly criminal,” which is preposterous. Wisconsin’s voters elected a Republican governor and a Republican legislature last fall. They did not elect union bosses.
The Democratic leader in the Wisconsin senate complained that “in thirty minutes, eighteen state senators undid fifty years of civil rights in Wisconsin,” which is partly true. The conservative Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk pointed out two weeks ago that “up through the 1950s, unions widely agreed that collective bargaining had no place in government.” But starting with Wisconsin in 1959, states decided otherwise.
The influx of dues and members quickly changed the union movement’s tune, and collective bargaining in government is now widespread. As a result unions can now insist on laws that serve their interests — at the expense of the common good.
Collective bargaining is not a “civil right” and it is inappropriate in the public sector because there really is no bargaining process in government.
Unions finance the political campaigns of candidates who vote to raise public workers’ wages and benefits, leading to a significant disparity in salary and an even wider gap in benefits between workers in the private sector and servants of the state.
Because of collective bargaining, taxpayers have no say in the arrangement while workers in Wisconsin are forced to become part of a union when they aspire to public service.
If the state assembly agrees that this should end, Governor Walker could sign the reform effort into law as early as Thursday afternoon.