If there was ever an “I told you so” moment on government unions becoming too powerful, this is it.
The Wisconsin State Capitol is under siege by unions. Thousands turned out to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s emergency budget bill. According to anecdotal reports, police advised workers in the Capitol to “lock [their] doors” after protesters marched through the halls of the building yelling and banging drums. A teacher “sick out” strike closed schools, and Gov. Walter put the National Guard on alert in case the public safety unions went on strike. Finally, all 13 Democrat senators fled the state to stop a vote on the bill.
Despite the last election where the voters of Wisconsin ousted the big spending Democrats — the state is expecting a $3.6 billion deficit over the next two years — unions want to overturn the democratic process. Gov. Walker and Republican candidates campaigned heavily on lower taxes, less spending, and curbing the power of government unions. Wisconsinites approved of these ideas and responded in kind when they elected Walker to the governorship and Republican majorities in both the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate. Gov. Walker told the Associated Press the actions are “not a shock … The shock would be if we didn’t go forward with this.”
The government union message from Wisconsin is loud and clear: Democracy be damned and the voters’ will does not matter if it takes away our benefits or power.
The proposed budget will require government employees to pick up 12.6 percent of their health care costs and contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to their pensions. They currently pay nothing. The amounts are roughly half of what workers in the private sector pay.
The contributions are not the real reason why the unions are upset. It is money and power. Before getting into what the bill will do, there are several things it does not do. It does not take away the right of workers to join a union. It does not take away their right to collectively bargain — although it does limit it to wages. It does not force Gov. Walker to lay off 6,000 state employees — the amount needed to fix the budget hole. It does not take away other civil service protections afforded to government workers.
The bill does give workers the right to say no to a union if they do not want to join. Currently, workers are forced to pay union dues simply to keep their jobs. It also takes away the union privilege of automatically deducting money from workers’ paychecks. Unions are truly incensed because now workers will have a choice and will have to affirmatively pay for union representation. If the unions do not perform, they will see their dues and their power decrease.
Image credit: Madison Guy’s flickr photostream.