Thursday, February 17, 2011

A New Assault In The War On Labor, Wisconsin Front [Updated Twice]

[Update #2: Politifact has checked the claim that Gov. Walker created the budget problem, and that there was a surplus, which I repeated belwo (see highlights). Not so.
[Update #1: The right-wing Club For Growth has run a deceptive ad calling for public employees to "sacrifice." Fact-check here. The forces of anti-labor are strong, indeed. (Bonus idiocy, their website has climate-change denial on it).]

It is my considered opinion that the Republican claims to care about fiscal responsibility are, at least in large part, based not on budget concerns, but on a fundamental antipathy to the modern welfare state. Analysis of almost any issue concerning balanced budgets will show that the Republican position, in full, is obviously not designed to promote fiscal responsibility or balance. It is designed to provide a pretext for the destruction of social programs and institutions that their ideology opposes. This topic has been written about extensively at several of the blogs on the links page here.

Newly-elected Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has provided one of the most stark examples of this deceitful propaganda by proposing to eliminate collective bargaining rights for 175,000 state employees. He also wants state employees to pay half the cost of their pensions and at least 12.6% of their health care premiums. Story linked here. Another story here. In essence, he wants to override an agreed-upon contractual obligation of the state, and then eliminate the right of workers to collectively bargain ever again for such terms.

A brief aside regarding the subject of collective bargaining. A simple definition is: "negotiation between organized workers and their employer or employers to determine wages, hours, rules, and working conditions." In 1959, Wisconsin passed the first collective bargaining law for public employees in the United States. I suspect a repeal of this right would be of added symbolic meaning to the anti-union movement, assuming they even know about that fact. Unions allow workers to negotiate the terms of their employment from a position of greater strength than they would as individuals. This tends to raise wages and/or benefits, improve working conditions, and generally make life better for workers. Of course, management hates this. And there has been a war against unions, carefully orchestrated, well-funded, and persistent, since they came into being. At one time, unions had a solid friend in the form of the Democratic Party. As the Democrats have moved ever-rightward, this support was waned, but still exists, as demonstrated here. At the same time, at least since the Reagan presidency, the assault on organized labor from the right has intensified. I may cover the history of labor in this country in future posts, but suffice to say that unions made life better for millions of Americans, and can be credited in part with the development of the strong middle class that used to exist in this country.

Walker has also suggested that if his proposal leads to unrest, he is prepared to call out the National Guard. This is clearly an intimidation tactic, and is characteristic of the repressive, authoritarian streak seen so often in Republicans.

The cuts and additional contributions are needed, says Walker, to deal with the state's budget crisis. The cuts are intended to plug a $137 million hole in the state budget.

One issue that I think is important when considering reductions in compensation is the relative level of compensation for those you are trying to cut. I suggest it is one thing to make a cut in the best-compensated public employees, and quite another to cut the worst. Jeffery Keefe of the Economic Policy Institute has published a paper addressing the question, "Are Wisconsin Public Employees Over-compensated?" I will note that the term "over-compensated is, on its face, rather subjective. "How much is too much" is not a question that lends itself to empirical answers.  The paper explores the comparison to comparable private sector employees. In short, Keefe concludes that Wisconsin public employees make less than their private counterparts.

Another interesting aspect of Walker's claim that the cuts are needed to balance the budget* is the state of the budget itself. As noted here, to begin with, eliminating collective bargaining rights doesn't affect the budget. The right isn't an expense in of itself. More damming still is the conclusion of the state's fiscal bureau that Wisconsin doesn't need such austerity measures, and could end up with a surplus. To the extent there are shortfalls, the fiscal bureau attributes more than half of the shortfall to three things Walker himself had the Republican-controlled legislature pass. First, $25 million for a job creation program fund that already has $73 million. If it already has $73 million, why spend more? Second, Walker spent $48 million for private Health Savings Accounts. Last, a $67 million tax incentive plan for employers, with no guarantee that will lead to hiring. After all, people hire because the new employee will yield a profit, not because they get a tax break. If I have more after-tax income, why in the world would I use it to hire someone unless I knew their services would add to my profit? So, Walker himself added $140 million to the budget, and he wants public employees to pay for it.

In a classic example of political payback, Walker has exempted the local police, firefighters, and state troopers from his proposal. If Walker was operating on principle and politics, the rights and compensation of ALL Wisconsin public employees would be on the table. There is no principled difference I can think of, at least for the purpose of examining the budget, between the police and firefighters on the one hand and every other public employee on the other.

For what its worth, some current and former Green Bay Packers signed on to a letter expressing support for the unions. I'm even happier they won the Super Bowl now. 

* I note that states, unlike the Federal government, must take in as revenue or borrow funds to pay for things. Therefore, cuts and/or taxes are actually necessary for the state to remain solvent.


  1. Well Walker exempted Police and Fire (Fire though is MOSTLY unpaid volunteers except for Milwaukee and one or two other towns) because they are emergency services providing basic life needs and support, also both organizations such as the IAFF and IBPO do not MANDATE you join the union like other unions do. Maslow would say they are they are the foundation of his hierarchy. However you are 100% right that it has nothing to due with the deficit. The deficit is an excuse to go after unions. As I believe we have talked about before the deficit isn't all bad as long as the debt to income ratio is good. Debt from a psychological point of view is a stressor but if properly taken care of is not a bad thing from a numbers point of view.
    However while Unions have done some really great things, they also have done some very bad things, eliminated competition, bribed people, dictated who you vote for. Intentionally did poor work just to get redo it over and over again.

    Walker should have been honest (fat chance I know)and brought up the union issue separately. Should the American public have the ability to eliminate services from the government on a whim (like they can in Switzerland) or should they be forced to negotiate with public employees. Public employees and managers need to realize they work for the American people and are at the whim of the people. I believe in having a strong military, Police, EMS, Public works, and good teachers. I believe in paying them well. However the risk of a strong union is the fact they may buck the will of the people. Is it likely? No. Is it a possibility? Yes.

  2. Defiant,
    I looked into the issue of unpaid volunteers, and I didn't find support for your point. Many have paid-on-call, as opposed to permanent, firefighters. As you concede, the attack on collective bargaining has nothing to do with deficits, what is the reason for exempting them? The reason you stated would only be valid if we we are talking money/budget. Which we aren't.
    Deficits in states ARE bad. It is at the Federal level, where the rules are different, that I argue deficits serve a vital function.
    What kind of competition have Unions eliminated? If you mean labor competition, I argue this is a very good thing. I don't want a race to the bottom, with the person willing to work under the worst circumstances leading the way. W had that, before organized labor, and it was abysmal. If you mean the ability of businesses to compete by driving down wages, I also accept that loss in return for the greater (IMO) good of work-place protections. I don't want our workers to be treated like the Chinese.
    Bribery is a part of life. It happens in the private sphere all the time, it cannot be eliminated. I don't condone it, but it isn't a problem particular (or even worse in scale as far as I know) to Unions.
    As far as dictating who people vote for, I don't see how that is possible. Do Unions check the ballots of members during elections? As you did not specify what kind of election, I can only guess what you mean.
    The bit about doing intentionally poor work, is that Unions, or military contractors in Iraq? That could be addressed by having some better terms of completion on the job.
    I am open to suggestions as to how to reform Unions, to the extent necessary and/or practical, but the issue here isn't reform, it is ELIMINATION. And that I will NEVER support. Pre-union American was a hell for working people. Period.
    I need to do more reading on public unions, but one thought is, do we want public servants' jobs' to be dependent on the outcomes of elections? Seems to me, one big protection against frequent and arbitrary changes to public-sector jobs is the kind of job security a Union provides. There are consequences to this, including the potential reduction in efficiency, but I'm willing to accept the trade-off. Plus, efficiency per se just isn't the greatest possible good.

  3. The % is actually from Duracell battery company. however it varies state to state. Example MA has 89% union fire depts. New York only has 17% Union fire depts. Paid ON call (being a former Paid On call person) is not all that much I would make maybe 400 a month and only got workers comp. You would make more at McDonalds and I was in a well paid on Call. Most of the time is just a tad bit over minimum wage as it is not your full time job.
    As far as voter Intimidation from unions there are dozens of RICO cases out there that go into that. Espcially in NYC, Boston, RI, (ok so where everyone of my ethic background lives lol). Also too at the Local and State level they use their public positions to influence voters. This action is illegal at the federal level because of the corruption that can come with it. Think about it the Fire Dept. goes around says this should be your next Mayor you will be safer at night. At the federal level you can campaign for who you want but not in your public capacity or public position of trust.

    Competition is eliminated and I will take a very specific case. but there are many others like it. Paving the Interstate in VT gets contracted out to out of state union businesses because the state ONLY does business with Union contractors. Meanwhile plenty of family run businesses in VT have the equipment and know how to Pave the Interstate, however the money leaves the state (mostly MA interestingly enough) and what business Vermonters get is subcontracted down to them at nothing rates.
    You see this happen to small "mom and pop" trades all the time. They can't get government contracts.

    By doing shoddy work I mean this. I have personally seen acts that a person should be fired for but because of the Union they were protected. There is so much protection that you can be like the Boston Fireman found dead because of drugs and alcohol use but touted as they did nothing wrong by the Union. Now some of it maybe demographic based and not union/nonunion based. Contractors in Iraq doing a shoddy job I would say from talking to many people over there since I have yet to go there but hopefully soon I will be there. Is really the operating environment they are in. but a good close apples to apples comparison is Johnson Controls Incorporated contract with at two IBM locations. Pougkeepsie New York and Essex Junction VT. the JCI staff in New York was unionized and the VT staff was not. However the VT staff outperformed the New York staff hands down. Now I said close apples to apples because the person in charge of VT hired immigrants. At first Amer-Asians and Vietnamese then Bosnians and then people from Sudan and Rwanda. Where as it was plain ole white folk in New York. So it could be a cultural thing too. My lovely Fiancee can talk about Nursing and how a Nurse who nearly kills her patient's on a regular basis gets the same raise as one who picks up the slack.
    I can remember I worked in the summer for res life full time at UVM because I was considering going to college there. I had to join the union and I remember being told repeated to slow down work wise as far as moving furniture. I was told this because if we took to long then we would be forced to have OT money and that's what everyone wanted.

    Is what the governor doing excessive YES is it a political showboating ploy most likely. Once upon a time Unions were needed. We had very few laws respecting Employee rights in our country and people were treated like slaves. However I would say the judicial system has come a long way and offers many options for employees that Unions once were the only ones capable of offering protections for people.

    Now why is he going after Collective Bargaining Rights in stead of saying making it illegal to strike (like it is for police and fire). I don't know.
    way to go since the RICO cases of old.

  4. part 2

    Going after the rights to strike would be more beneficial I along with several other students had to threaten to sue my teachers senior year in High School because the average salary of 65k a year in South Burlington VT was not enough for them. Also only a small handful of those teachers in South Burlington lived in South Burlington and didn't care how much property taxes had to be raised to generate the funding which at that time we had Act 60 (thank god that's gone) so it would have been very high taxes. Also if they gone on strike for enough days we would have to have waited a year to graduate which is where suing them came into play.

    I think we could use drastic reforms with unions is attacking collective bargaining rights the way to go. No. Is it bringing attention to the issue, yes it is. Maybe because it's so precious to unions it would make them be open to reform who knows. Maybe he is just going for the jugular it's all speculation at this point. However I would say this reform needs to happen. I personally would like to see that joining a union is optional if you like. the idea that a person is out there trying to get a job. Then when he finds one finds out he MUST join the union in order to have it. eh that's a little to much for me. Some unions are good about that like the IAFF and IBPO. but most have a long

  5. Thank you, that's very kind. I don't feel like I have any worth-while responses to your last comments, so we can leave it where it is. Thanks for "playing!" :-)