Free Markets, Free People
Why is it that in almost every scenario imaginable, where a stiff spine, adherence to principle and with public support behind them ensures political victory, there always seems to emerge a group willing to compromise (unnecessarily) before the fight is over?
With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker maintaining a hard line on his budget bill and Democratic senators refusing to return to Madison to vote, attention is turning to a group of moderate Republican senators to negotiate a compromise to the stalemate that has drawn thousands of protesters to the state capital for a sixth straight day.
The proposal, written by Sen. Dale Schultz and first floated in the Republican caucus early last week, calls for most collective bargaining rights of public employee unions to be eliminated – per Mr. Walker’s bill – but then reinstated in 2013, said Mr. Schultzs’s chief of staff Todd Allbaugh.
"Dale is committed to find a way to preserve collective bargaining in the future," said Mr. Allbaugh in a telephone interview.
Really? Why? Because one of the major reasons the state is having to rescind the sweetheart deals made to state workers is the result of the so-called “collective bargaining” done in the past.
Consider this – in the private sector, corporations compete against other corporations for market share. The demands of competitiveness help keep union demands in check as both sides in a negotiation understand that going to far will cripple the corporation in terms of its competition and may cost everyone their job. So private sector union members have been paying a higher portion of their wages toward their own pension and health care than public union members.
There’s also an healthy adversarial relationship between labor and management that lends to checking the benefits allowed.
There is no competitive atmosphere within the public sector nor is there much of any adversarial relationship present. In short, there are none of the checks on those unions that a competitive atmosphere puts on private sector unions.
Secondly, the public sector unions have become huge players in state and national politics. What happens is the guy they help elect is the guy with whom they often end up sitting across the negotiations table. What do you think the union extracts as promises from politicians they support for election? Well of course, sweetheart deals like those enjoyed by the unions members in Wisconsin where the taxpayer is dunned for their pension and health care benefits instead of the union member.
The bill in question is an important one. It would also remove the requirement that state employees must join the union to hold a job in state government. That, of course, scares the living daylights out of the union leadership. Why?
Because it breaks their monopoly control on government employees, it removes their ability to use the state to require and collect union dues for them and it threatens their ability to fund political activities and further extend their power.
And then there’s the accountability “problem” they’ll suddenly face. The Wisconsin bill would require the union to hold a yearly recertification vote by secret ballot. Until now, with mandated membership and the state collecting dues for the union (via payroll deduction), the union has had no need or requirement to be accountable to its members. Members have had no choice but to join the union regardless of whether they wanted to or agreed with the union’s direction. With the passage of this bill the union would suddenly have an accountability requirement. As you might imagine, they want nothing to do with that.
With all of the liberty enhancing aspects of this bill as they pertain to the Wisconsin public service unions, why in the world are some “moderate” Republicans getting wobbly in the knees (thankfully Gov. Walker is standing his ground)? They have a strong case, they have a voter mandate, they have public opinion on their side, union members are acting like spoiled children and their political opponents have shut down state government.
But with Democratic senators indicating they are willing to remain away from the capital indefinitely, state government remains shut down with no end in sight.
That’s bad on them. So why is Dale Schultz trying to entice them back to the table with an absurdity like suspending collective bargaining rights for only 2 years? It shouldn’t be their side that is showing signs of giving in, it should be the Democrats who’ve run off to another state to avoid doing their job. Let public pressure work on them.
It is to the advantage of the state GOP to let the Democrats carry out this travesty for as long as they wish. Let the so-called public servants stay off the job and throw their selfish tantrums in the capitol. It doesn’t reflect well on them and the public will finally tire of it.
But if the GOP there capitulates and compromises it will most likely turn the public opinion tables on them and encourage the unions and Democrats there and elsewhere to duplicate the tactics that forced the compromise.
For once, I’d like to see the GOP stand its ground – firmly – and invite the opposition to give it their best shot. I think Democrats have badly misread this situation and are in the middle of hurting themselves. What’s the old political axiom: when your opponent is in the middle of self-destruction, get out of their way and let the process continue – or something like that. WI “moderate” Republicans need to grow a pair and stand their ground. What they’re proposing is in the best interest of the state and its citizens, and that is what they were elected to concern themselves with.
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the demonstrations by public employee unions in Wisconsin, and the wave of protests across the Mideast.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
It’s a cold day in hell here as I favorably quote someone who I usually savage. And I have to revise my thoughts on the left not getting irony – apparently some do. Who am I taking about? Joe Klein. Yup that Joe Klein, TIME’s Joe Klein. He actually gets it:
Revolutions everywhere–in the middle east, in the middle west. But there is a difference: in the middle east, the protesters are marching for democracy; in the middle west, they’re protesting against it. I mean, Isn’t it, well, a bit ironic that the protesters in Madison, blocking the state senate chamber, are chanting "Freedom, Democracy, Union" while trying to prevent a vote? Isn’t it ironic that the Democratic Senators have fled the democratic process? Isn’t it interesting that some of those who–rightly–protest the assorted Republican efforts to stymie majority rule in the U.S. Senate are celebrating the Democratic efforts to stymie the same in the Wisconsin Senate?
An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that.
I know … you’re wondering, “what did they do with the real Joe Klein”, but hey give the devil his due (keeping with the cold day in hell metaphor) – he’s exactly right.
The other Klein, the Ezra type, not so much.
Let’s be clear: Whatever fiscal problems Wisconsin is — or is not — facing at the moment, they’re not caused by labor unions.
That, sir, is irrelevant. Whatever “fiscal problems” are present need to be solved by having across the board spending cuts and that’s the point of requiring public service labor union members to pitch in a little more on their benefits. Essentially what Wisconsin is trying to do is put state employees on an even par with private employees in terms of benefits.
Here’s the bottom line of what is triggering these protests:
Besides limiting collective-bargaining rights for most workers—excepting police, firefighters and others involved in public safety—it would require government workers, who currently contribute little or nothing to their pensions, to contribute 5.8% of their pay to pensions, and pay at least 12.6% of health-care premiums, up from an average of 6%.
Wow. No more free lunch. Can’t imagine that, can you? You know, actually having to pitch in for your pension and health-care? Privately employed citizens have been doing that forever. So why are the public sector folks exempt? Well that’s the dirty little secret isn’t it?
Let’s go to Matt Welch for the answer:
We are witnessing the logical conclusion of the Democratic Party’s philosophy, and it is this: Your tax dollars exist to make public sector unions happy. When we run out of other people’s money to pay for those contracts and promises (most of which are negotiated outside of public view, often between union officials and the politicians that union officials helped elect), then we just need to raise taxes to cover a shortfall that is obviously Wall Street’s fault. Anyone who doesn’t agree is a bully, and might just bear an uncanny resemblance to Hitler.
There is Wisconsin in a nutshell – distilled as well as you’ll find it anywhere. These deals were mostly pay for play and the state’s taxpayers were sold down the river. I noted some months ago that the Democrats have become the party of public service unions instead of the party of the blue collar worker. They are dependent on the money and machine those powerful unions provide to stay in power.
And when that machine falters? Well, you get tantrums like this. Remember the union protesters in Illinois a few months ago clamoring for the governor there to raise taxes instead of cutting their benefits? Just like Ezra Klein they want to lay off the fiscal mess on others instead of recognizing its reality and understanding that the free ride has come to an end. It doesn’t matter if the unions had anything to do with the mess – the mess says everything is on the table. That’s the only way out of the mess.
But, this is Armageddon for the Democrats and their stakeholders. If states succeed in breaking the hold public service unions have on government, Democrats stand to lose substantial power. That explains why President Obama has entered the fray. While he wouldn’t back the protesters in Iran because it might be seen as meddling in the internal affairs of the state, he has no qualms whatsoever of meddling in the internal affairs of the state of Wisconsin. Apparently elections only have consequences when he wins.
What has the unions so terrified of the Walker plan? Well here’s the plan:
His plan allows workers to quit their union without losing their job. He requires unions to demonstrate their support through an annual secret-ballot vote. He also ends the unfair taxpayer subsidy to union fundraising: The state and local government would stop collecting union dues with their payroll systems.
Under that plan, union membership would be an actual choice instead of a mandated requirement to hold a job. Horror of horrors. How dare a governor advance something which actually enhances freedom (choice = freedom) – why that makes him a dictator, of course and akin to Hitler.
Make no mistake, these protests in Madison aren’t about democracy, freedom or liberty. They’re about the left’s power and something they love to project on the right and Wall Street – selfishness. The protests are a collective tantrum from adolescents who refuse to acknowledge that their special-interest Candyland no longer exists and while it did, it existed on the back of the tax payers who were made to unwillingly subsidizing their way of life.
This is the wrong fight, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Democrats are on the wrong side. Public sector unions are not popular and despite Ezra Klein’s denial, are held responsible for some of the fiscal problems the states face (like pensions):
A new poll from the Washington-based Clarus Group asked:
Do you think government employees should be represented by labor unions that bargain for higher pay, benefits and pensions … or do you think government employees should not be represented by labor unions?
A full 64% of the respondents said "no."
That includes 42% of Democrats, and an overwhelming majority of Republicans. Only 49% of Democrats think public workers should be in unions at all.
So, as you watch these “protests” keep them in context. They’re an astroturfed attempt, orchestrated from the highest office in the land, to keep the power current structure in place that underpins the political power of the Democrats. This isn’t about rights or liberty or freedom, this is about power and money. And it has finally unmasked the left in this country and revealed what it is really all about.
Wisconsin is a great example of special interest constituency politics. I’m not talking about politics that focus on the constituents in your district or state if you’re an elected representative or senator. I’m talking about special-interest constituents who provide you money and backing when you seek election or reelection – whether from your district or not.
That’s pretty much what is going on in Wisconsin boils down too. Wisconsin’s Republican Governor, Scott Walker has proposed a number of ways to “repair” the budget. In summary, those aimed at public service unions place limits on their existing power:
It would require most public workers to pay half their pension costs – typically 5.8% of pay for state workers – and at least 12% of their health care costs. It applies to most state and local employees but does not apply to police, firefighters and state troopers, who would continue to bargain for their benefits.
Except for police, firefighters and troopers, raises would be limited to inflation unless a bigger increase was approved in a referendum. The non-law enforcement unions would lose their rights to bargain over anything but wages, would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks.
Apparently such limits are simply outrageous. Unions hold annual elections? Public workers pay more toward their pensions and health care costs? And, of course, the bargaining “rights” curtailed in everything but wages?
So that’s prompted an astroturf campaign which has involved organizations outside Wisconsin, to include the White House. The one thing public sector unions can do effectively it seems is “flash mobs”. Reports of advertisements in Illinois aimed at recruiting activists for protests in Wisconsin were common.
The Democratic National Committee also has involved themselves in the local fight.
The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.
OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.
So anyone who thinks this is all “spontaneous” might want to buy a clue.
Meanwhile, all the Democratic state senators in Wisconsin have run off to Rockford, Ill to avoid having to do their jobs. You see, Republicans hold a majority, but are one short of a quorum needed to pass legislation. So without the Democrats, the Senate is unable to act on legislation. Democrats have issued a “list of demands”:
“We demand that the provisions that completely eliminate the ability of workers… to negotiate on a fair basis with their employers be removed from the budget repair bill and any other future budget,” Miller said.
He also demanded legislative oversight on changes to the state’s medical programs, which are targeted for changes in the bill. The bill would also require union members to contribute to their health care and pensions.
My guess is there’s some negotiating room there, but if I were the governor I’d tell Dems that there’ll be no talk about their demands until they act like adults and show back up in the capital ready to do their jobs. And Governor Walker has laid out the alternative fairly clearly:
Walker said the only alternative would be layoffs of 10,000 to 12,000 state and local employees.
Of course, without a quorum, that isn’t the strongest hand in the world. But what Democrats are doing sure seems like a childish tantrum in my eyes. Republicans may not have a quorum and state government may grind to a halt because of it, but I doubt that voters are going to blame members of the GOP for that.
All of this has spawned the usual misinformation as charges and counter-charges fly. Ed Schultz provides an example of a completely false statement about the controversy according to Politifact Wisconsin. Said Shultz:
Under changes being debated, state employees in Wisconsin "who earn $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year might have 20 percent of their income just disappear overnight."
Not true. Although state employees would have to pay a higher percentage for their benefits (in the 6 to 11% range) none are looking at “20 percent of their income disappear[ing] over night”.
Unions have been losing favor in the eyes of the American public for years, with a fairly sharp downturn in their popularity in 2007. Since then their favorability rating has stayed about the same, but unfavorable numbers continue to build:
Americans’ attitudes about labor unions changed only slightly over the past year, following a sharp downturn between early 2007 and early 2010. Currently, 45% say they have a favorable opinion about labor unions, while nearly as many (41%) say they have an unfavorable opinion.
In January 2007, 58% said they had a favorable opinion of unions; 31% had an unfavorable opinion.
Tantrums like this, astroturfing and the plain old uncivil behavior aren’t going to help their case. Ann Althouse has some examples of the latter. It appears that Adolph Hitler has made a comeback among the left in Wisconsin. Civility is only a requirement for those on the right, apparently. The left – well it’s the left and any insult and comparison, no matter how outrageous, is perfectly fine. Godwin’s law is in effect in Wisconsin.
I think Wisconsin is only the beginning of these sorts of spectacles and fights. Entrenched bureaucracies and unions aren’t going to give up their power easily and go quietly in the night. How they conduct themselves in this sort of fight will be important though. The point, one assumes, is to bring visibility to their arguments and persuade the public to back them. If that’s the case, I don’t think the way the Wisconsin protesters (and legislators) are prosecuting their case will be held up as a model to be emulated.
Cuts are coming – whether made willingly or forced by reality. There’s no escaping that. Gov. Walker is trying to get ahead of that curve.
Human nature says no one wants to see their ox gored, regardless of reality’s demands. But in a battle for public opinion, acting like children, calling people Nazis and importing out-of-state protesters in what is really a local fight doesn’t seem to be the best way to get the public on your side.