Lost: the common good

The Chicago Tribune

America’s labor movement can claim historic victories that have served the common good. Safer workplaces. Laws to protect children from workplace exploitation. The eight-hour workday. Those who are in unions can justifiably be proud of those and other accomplishments.

But how proud are they that the children of Madison, Wis., have missed school the last two days because so many of their teachers abandoned their classrooms and joined a mass demonstration? Joined a mass demonstration to intimidate the members of the Wisconsin Legislature, who are trying to close a $3 billion deficit they face over the next two years?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has demanded that state workers contribute roughly 5.8 percent of their wages toward their retirement. He wants them to pay for 12 percent of their health-care premiums. Those modest employee contributions would be the envy of many workers in the private sector.

Walker wants government officials to have authority to reshape public-employee benefits without collective bargaining. Walker wouldn’t remove the right of unions to bargain for wages.

No, he is not seeking to eliminate unions, though you might get that impression from the heated rhetoric of the employees and even from President Barack Obama, who called this an “assault on unions.”

Walker is trying to give Wisconsin a reality check. In response, public workers have interrupted the Legislature. Madison and many neighboring public schools have closed because so many teachers called in sick and left to join the protest. Democratic lawmakers disappeared on Thursday to stall a vote on the budget measures. Apparently some of them fled to … Illinois.

Public sentiment is changing. There is a growing sense that public-sector unions are not battling for better, safer workplaces. They’re not battling unscrupulous employers. They’re battling … the common good…

…It might surprise the protesters in Madison to know that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt counseled against public-sector unions because “militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees.”…

The editorial continues at The Chicago Tribune.

Related: Wisconsin state budget at the Sunshine Review, and at the National Taxpayers Union, Wisconsin’s Wild Lame Duck:

December 17, 2010

The U.S. Congress is not the only legislature busy with a lame duck session. One state that seems to be challenging Congress for the title of “busiest lame duck session of the year” is Wisconsin.

Last week, outgoing Democrat Governor Jim Doyle completed negotiations on 17 contracts for 39,000 state employees. While the contracts did not include pay increases, Governor-elect Scott Walker, the conservative Republican Milwaukee County Executive, felt that the state’s public employee unions could and would have to concede more, given that the state faces a $150 million deficit in the current fiscal year and a staggering $3.3 billion deficit in the next two-year budget. But the state and the unions did not reopen negotiations. All that was left was for the State Legislature to approve the contracts…

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