Under the phony guise of a “budget repair bill”, radical right-wing Republican Gov. Scott Walker has proposed to blow up the business relationship that has existed for four decades with the state’s public employees. If passed as-is by the goose-stepping Republican legislature, it means the death of collective bargaining in Wisconsin government. For state, local government and public school employees, the bill would mean the end of any right they have to have a voice in the workplace, to address discipline and other grievances and to bargain anything but a laughable wage increase.
Although supposedly part of a short-term budget fix, the relatively small-potatoes $30 million estimated savings by the state government in this fiscal year is the molehill that is vaporized by this atomic bomb. The 5.8 percent employee contribution to pensions and the (minimum) 12 percent employee contribution towards the cost of health insurance – figures the Boy Governor has talked about throughout his campaign and beyond – could have and probably would have been successfully negotiated with the state employee unions without much difficulty in the normal course of good faith negotiations. Walker never even tried.
Just like the evisceration of personal injury law had nothing to do with job creation, the destruction of collective bargaining for public employees has nothing to do with the budget. It is rather a mad power grab by a ruling elite that will change any rule to make sure they win. It is also a continuation of the nationwide campaign by Republicans to destroy all what is left of the labor union movement on behalf of the wealthy corporations who pull their puppet strings and pay their bills.
The details of the bill as it relates to public sector collective bargaining are staggering in their implications and in their sheer fuckyouitude. Besides dictating the by-now uncontroversial changes to pension and health insurance contributions, the draconian bill eliminates bargaining on every traditional subject of collective bargaining (except wages) and puts extraordinary roadblocks in the path of any labor union trying to do anything at all for its members. Some of the disgusting details:
- The bill allows for bargaining on wages – and nothing else. That means union contracts will no longer have language on layoffs, discipline, workplace conditions, hours, vacation, sick leave or any other of the standard conditions of employment that have helped keep labor peace throughout the years. All of those terms will be dictated by the employer. Union contracts that often run hundreds of pages will now fit on a cocktail napkin – or on a couple of squares of toilet paper in the governor’s mansion.
- Bargaining on wages – the only allowable subject of bargaining – will officially be a joke. Pay raises will be limited to the rate of inflation. Any unit of government that wants to treat its employees to better than the rate of inflation has to run a referendum with the relative electorate. If the state ever fell into sane hands again, a state employee raise above the inflation rate would have to be approved in a statewide referendum. Public employee unions will be like a bound-and-gagged prisoner who is supposed to be glad they get to wiggle their fingers under the handcuffs.
- Public employee unions have to run a re-certification election every year in which they have to win the votes of 50 percent of all eligible employees (not just those voting) to avoid decertification.
- Union dues cannot be deducted from public employee paychecks. Members will have to send checks to the union by themselves.
Oh, and, by the way, all those cops and firefighters whose unions endorsed Walker? None of this applies to you. Thanks a million (or two). We’ll see how the law enforcement and firefighters, who have benefited more than anyone else in the public sector from the right to collectively bargain, react to their brothers and sisters in the union movement being steamrolled by the Republican jihad in Madison. It might be time for them to step up and think about someone other than themselves for a change. I’m not holding my breath.
For everyone else who didn’t help Walker get elected, the bill means the end of collective bargaining for Wisconsin public employees. It will be interesting to see how the union movement responds and to see if they can peel off enough Republicans in the legislature (the Fitzgerald brothers represent a lot of prison guards in Waupun – perhaps they can arrange a little carve-out of their own) to at least make some changes.
But, unfortunately, union leaders have been so caricatured and marginalized over the years by the right-wing echo chamber, it may be hard for them to get any traction in the public arena. It will be up to those of us who are not union members to speak up and fight for what is right and to protest Walker’s latest and (so far) most outrageous power grab.