I've been asked to comment on Governor Walker's recent announcement that he will remove collective bargaining from contracts with the unions that represent state workers. Collective bargaining means the entire compensation package is negotiable. Retirement, insurance, salary, etc. With respect to most of the state workers, they complain about their salary being lower than average for the country yet have benefits and retirement packages that are some of the most generous in the nation. As was pointed out in a recent article I read, it is the trade-off they negotiated. Walker wants only salary to be a negotiable item, among other concessions.
The collective bargaining agreements with the unions ties the hands of school boards wishing to compensate teachers with higher salaries. There is only so much money to use for compensation. If most of it goes toward insurance and retirement benefits, there isn't anything left over for the salaries. Broaching the subject of sharing the cost of these benefits with public unions has fallen on deaf and indignant ears in the past. So it's understandable that Walker didn't expect anything to change from that status quo going forward.
However, the heavy-handed approach he has demonstrated since the day he was elected negates what he has to say. I do not disagree that public employees' days of crazy generous benefits are behind us. States cannot afford it anymore. Oddly enough, what he has to say I have been saying for four years. My husband hasn't gotten a raise in four years. Our insurance rates have risen. Our take home pay is lower now than four years ago. Why should public employees consider themselves above the fray for these economic times? I don't understand Walker's adversarial approach to the subject. "I don't have 16 months to negotiate." He could have at least sat them down, told them the realities and let them mull it over. But instead, out came dictatorial, my-way-or-the-highway Walker, like a blunderbuss. One would think that he knows enough about Wisconsin's deep roots in socialism and libertarianism to know how popular this approach would be and how it would be portrayed in the media. I wonder how many of the protesters actually know the terms he is recommending? Did they contain their indignation long enough to get to the end of the articles to see his proposal? For many, the answer is probably NO because they were so incensed at the methodology.
A move that should have made it easier for school boards, towns and cities across the state to negotiate to lower budgets has simply aggravated the masses. Teachers are taking "sick days" and Madison had to declare a "snow day" sort of day because they expected insufficient staff to teach. Everyone will be distracted from the fact that, due to a confluence of events, most districts and municipalities are projecting 10-20% budget deficits. But there it will remain.
Do the Madison teachers believe taxpayers support spending the time you're supposed to be teaching the next generation out boycotting our Governor? Do it on your own time. If you have no contract, you may be fired. Yesterday was the only public comment day. It is understandable if you took yesterday off in an attempt to have your voice heard during the public comment meeting. But even that could have been accomplished on your own time. I don't know for sure, but I imagine the meeting exceeded 3pm. There were 10,000 to 15,000 people there, for heaven sakes.
So, yes I agree something has to give. Yes I support the governor's idea to make only salary a negotiable item, with some understanding that benefits would remain, even at a lower level. You have no idea how much it pains me to agree with such a rabid Republican, so cut me some slack here. But under no circumstances do I agree with the way in which he did it. He was grandstanding and his message was lost in his method.