Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why The Dummies Are Wrong

The ventriloquist dummies that pass for state policymakers these days are moving at breakneck speed to take away longstanding worker rights in Wisconsin. They say it has to be done right now to patch a hole in the state's budget for the current year, even though the Legislature's own nonpartisan budget analysts say there's no such short-term problem.

Green Bay-area business leader Paul Linzmeyer is right. What the dummies say is nonsense. Governor Walker and his allies in the Legislature are not doing this for budgetary reasons. Their inspiration is ideological. This is about politics, not state finance. This is about paying back big campaign donors and punishing political opponents. And yes, this is about union busting.

The health insurance and pension benefit concessions they are after would reportedly save the state about $300 million over the next two years. The deficit for the coming two years is now projected to be $3.6 billion. They expect us to believe it is worth ripping Wisconsin in two to solve less than a tenth of the long-term problem the state faces. And they expect us to believe it despite the fact it has become abundantly clear they could get the concessions without stripping workers of their rights.

These facts make the political games the dummies are playing plainly visible. All that aside, for me it boils down to this: Workers have a fundamental right to organize and collectively bargain with their employer. It is unacceptable under any circumstances to solve budget problems by taking away people's rights.

I am not a public employee. In fact, I've never been represented by a union in any job I've ever had. But I am not incapable of seeing and appreciating that all working people have benefited greatly from things unions have fought for and won over the years. We take for granted as a basic employment standard that workers have weekends off, 8-hour work days, 5-day work weeks, and paid vacation and sick leave. All of these things were won by unions.

My benefits aren't as good as those received by Wisconsin's public workers. My employer pays a third of the cost of the health insurance I have. I pay $789 a month out of pocket to cover my family, nearly $9,500 a year. There is no dental coverage. The Democracy Campaign covers one third of a rather meager monthly payment into an individual retirement account.

I'm not complaining. I consider myself lucky. I am paid to do work I love. My parents were dairy farmers and the family didn't have health or dental insurance at all when I was growing up. They had no pension plan. No weekends off or vacations either. Cows need milking twice a day, every day.

Although I fit the profile of someone who might resent public employee compensation, I can't begrudge state and local government workers their pay and benefits. A teacher's job is far more important than mine. A firefighter's is more essential. So is a police officer's. Plowing snow and picking up the trash are indispensable too.

Millions of dollars are showered on professional athletes for entertaining us. A good teacher is worth infinitely more to society than a good quarterback or starting pitcher or point guard. Yet I'm supposed to be bent out of shape because the average teacher in Wisconsin earns something like $51,000 a year? Hell, a truly outstanding teacher would be a bargain at $200,000 in my book.

A state budget is more than just an accounting of how much we'll be taxed and how those taxes will be spent. It is a reflection of our society's priorities. We need to get ours straight.


Anonymous said...

"a truly outstanding teacher would be a bargain at $200,000 in my book."

But isn't it specifically the union rules that prevent us from being able to do just exactly that - pay for performance?

Anonymous said...

How do you decide who is an outstanding teacher or not? Do you think everone in a community will think that the teacher you pick deserves $200,000. Lets get real here.

Anonymous said...

I would like everyone to know that the excellent educaters I know in this state are dedicated. We have had average raises of around 3% while private sector workers were recieving 20-30%. The 3% covered the cost of our insurance with maybe a few dollars extra. This is what life was like under the QEO. So now when others are only making 1-10% income increases people want to use us as a scapegoat. Wouldent you take it personal?

Anonymous said...

"I would like everyone to know that the excellent educators I know in this state are dedicated."

I would fully agree with you on that.

"We have had average raises of around 3% while private sector workers were receiving 20-30%."

That is absurd. Employees at the company I work for haven't received a wage increase in 3 years. Companies that have had the good fortune to pass through increases have been in the low single % range.

Anonymous said...

If teachers could make $200K a year or even half that, then we'd have the best and the brightest in our society in the teaching profession. Can you imagine the lines outside the doors of the education schools? Instead we keep sending a message that paying for teachers is too much of a burden on us. Now Governor Mubarak is taking away their rights along with the rights of other public workers, and threatening to call out the National Guard if they object too stenuously. And we expect to be believed when we say we want the best minds in the teaching profession?

Anonymous said...

Mike, you are as, or more important than a "teacher" because you continue to help us to know about issues that exist that affect our lives, and the lives of others. Thank you for your excellent work.

clyde winter said...

Working class solidarity is the only way we will defeat the divide and conquer tactics being blatantly employed against us by the trans-national corporations and the super-rich. Unfortunately we have either forgotten or never bothered to grasp what solidarity means. We will become more isolated and mistrustful, and increasingly impoverished, as all workers, (whether so-called "public" or "private" employees, associates, what-have-you) are picked off and herded to the bottom, unless we learn and live in solidarity.

We need government that is of, by, and for the people - not government that is by and for the corporations and the lobbyists.

Thank you Mike, for the example you have tried to set in this article, and for all your most valuable work.

Anonymous said...

The best reason to oppose this Budget Repair bill hasn't been clearly explained. People should know that it is illegal. The United Nations' "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" includes collective bargaining as an international human right. It is very clearly specified in Article 23 (item #4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The declaration can be found at:

Our state legislators AND governor have a duty to uphold the observance of this collective bargaining right. I applaud the 14 Wisconsin state senator's non-confrontational absence that supports this universal human right.

The context of this proposed legislation should be considered. The United States government's previous and present Executive administrations have demonstrated a significant disregard for human rights when the past president openly admitted he authorized torture and the current president refused to prosecute this freely admitted crime.

Our government's once bright line separating unmistakable moral and immoral behavior has become a faint, gray line. Prohibiting collective bargaining rights seems somewhat less important than torture and torture is apparently an acceptable practice. The line of separation for this "lesser" crime has become practically invisible.

Our society's moral decline is on a slippery slope. Our fall needs a large boulder to catch our descent. The 14 Wisconsin state senator's passive resistance to this immoral and illegal power grab can be the boulder that helps prevent our further moral decline. Let's just hope the impact of it is powerful enough to cause a vast majority of people to re-calibrate their moral and political compass.