Wisconsin has a long history of supporting workers. In 1911, it became the first state in the country to pass workers’ compensation protections. In 1959, the state government gave its employees the right to engage in collective bargaining, coming down decisively in favor of the public sector. At the time such policies were at the forefront of a broader national trend, one that would eventually see the rise of an empowered public sector with the ability to negotiate its wages, pension benefits and vacation time.
With Supreme Overlord Scott Walker’s recently proposed budget repair bill, however, many of those historical benefits will be weakened. In particular, public employees will have to contribute 50 percent of their pension payments and will also be required to contribute 12.6 percent of their health care premiums. Perhaps more painfully, the state’s limited-term employees will not be eligible for state health insurance or to take part in the Wisconsin Retirement System.
While painful, many of these changes have been demanded by various, relatively moderate constituencies both at the state level and nationally. What has inspired the furor of the past two days has been Walker’s concurrent proposal to eliminate the ability of most public-sector unions to collectively bargain for anything other than wages. In formulating his budget proposal, Walker did not consult any of the public employee organizations whose power he plans to so drastically reduce.
With the members of this board spanning the full range of the political spectrum, we have not come to a consensus on the merits of all of Walker’s proposals.
What is clear is that his methods are patently undemocratic. In not consulting public employees on the best possible way to reduce their benefits, he missed a critical opportunity to cooperate with them and perhaps find a reduction in public sector costs that was at least somewhat palatable. His tactics are particularly unacceptable given that many public employee unions offered to negotiate in the run-up to his proposal.
His actions have also set the stage for a worsening of the current political climate. It’s no surprise that our sitting governor needs contingency plans which involve the National Guard staffing the state’s prisons if correctional officers go on strike – the probability of that happening skyrocketed when he refused to even speak to the affected parties.
Whatever the opinion of this board’s individual members on the merits of Walker’s ideas, it is impossible to support his methods.
While the recent protests have been an impressive rebuttal to a governor that seems hell-bent on ignoring a serious discourse, we encourage the people at yesterday’s rally to consider contacting those legislators who are rumored to be divided about the proposal. In particular, those who feel they haven’t gotten a fair bargain are strongly advised to hit the phones and let their representation know the consequences for a yes vote will be waiting – interest adjusted for two years.