An recent report in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel entitled “Walker looks at showdown with state employee unions” claims Wisconsin’s incoming Governor Scott Walker will attempt to reduce public sector union prerogatives in order to make it easier to eliminate the state’s budget deficit.
Based on the election results on November 2nd, Governor Walker may get some help from his legislature. According to Ballotpedia, Wisconsin’s State Assembly has transitioned from a 50-45 (2 independent, 2 vacancies) Democratic majority to a 60-38 (1 independent) Republican majority. Similarly, Wisconsin’s State Senate has transitioned from a 18-15 Democratic majority to a 19-14 Republican majority.
Voters and politicians in Wisconsin only have to look at what public sector union control of the state and local governments have done in California – where on November 2nd Democratic candidates swept the higher state offices and enhanced their already absolute control of both the senate and the assembly – to know the time for confrontation is now, not later when the game is so rigged that reforms are almost hopeless. California is a failed state, where the latest estimate of the state budget deficit is $29 billion, and the collective estimates of the local government budget deficits probably dwarf that figure. Opinions differ as to the cause of these deficits, but the agenda of public sector unions don’t leave much to the imagination of an unbiased observer: over-market pay and benefits to unionized government bureaucrats, excessive and self-perpetuating social welfare programs, and laws and regulations designed to punish businesses and maximize taxes and fees. The voters in Wisconsin, like voters in most of the states still relatively free of unionized government control of the political process, want no part of it.
In California, how government employees unionize and what aspects of their employment are subject to mandatory collective bargaining are covered by several key legislative actions, most notably the Meyers Milias Brown Act, but many others. Links to information on the laws enabling collective bargaining by state and local workers in California can be found on their Public Employers Relations Board website. If California had a Governor and legislature prepared to stand up to unions, instead of utterly beholden to them, they could modify or even repeal this labyrinth of legislation, and give their state back to the taxpayers – but then again, it is equally likely that sometime in 2012 the Golden Gate Bridge will suddenly turn into an alien stargate, and Governor Moonbeam will welcome emissaries from Remulak.
Back on planet earth, in Wisconsin, to be particular, Governor Walker had this to say about public employee unions in his state: “Anything from the decertify all the way through modifications of the current laws in place,” and “The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers and the people who care about services.”
According to the Dec. 8th report in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Governor Walker’s agenda includes the following: “As a short-term measure, Walker wants to require workers to make a 5% contribution to their pensions. State union workers have traditionally not contributed to their plans. He also wants to increase employees’ share of health costs to 12% – up from 4% to 6%, depending on the bargaining unit.” Imagine that – asking employees to help pay for their pensions and health insurance.
Wisconsin’s law enabling and regulating collective bargaining by state and local government employees is their State Employment Labor Relations Act. Wisconsin’s Governor and legislators have the opportunity to dramatically revise this legislation. With the cautionary example of California to guide them, they may take dramatic steps to curb the political power of public sector unions before it’s too late.