Wisconsin Unions Show No Willingness to Share in Sacrifice

“It’s one thing about the money. We’d be willing to negotiate the money. [But] he’s trying to take away our human rights.”

So says Laurie Bauer, a 51 year old library media specialist in Wisconsin, speaking about the governor’s effort to introduce budget cutting reforms to public sector unions.

Really? You want to make this about human rights while simultaneously arguing against right-to-work laws? Wisconsin is currently a union shop state, meaning that employees must either join the union or pay the equivalent of union dues. It’s either pay up or get out. Such extortionism-lite, is not exactly what I think of when I hear the words “human rights.”

The fact is, it’s all about the money. The state needs to save more of it in order to close a $137 million deficit and public sector employees want to keep more in their pockets. I don’t blame them necessarily, they’ve legally negotiated their salaries with prior elected officials. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t time for some change. After all, are we so quick to forget this episode that happened this past November, as reported by the National Review:

“In a letter [Gov. Walker] asked outgoing Democratic governor Jim Doyle to refrain from finalizing contracts with state union employees. The governor nonetheless continued to negotiate the contracts, and when he finalized them, the assembly pushed ahead, even pulling one Democratic assemblyman out of jail (where he was serving a 60-day sentence for drunk driving) for a day so that he could cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the contracts. But in a surprise move, Democratic senate majority leader Russ Decker voted against the contracts. Outraged Democrats stripped Decker of his leadership position that same day.”

So don’t let me hear sob stories from unions about how this was a fair deal between them and government. The fact is, the you scratch our back and we’ll scratch yours approach to swapping election votes for hearty concessions leaves the average taxpayer out to dry.

As it stands Wisconsin public sector workers have secured pay and benefits well above that of the average private sector worker. Currently, union workers in Wisconsin pay only 6 percent of their health care premium costs. They also receive a generous defined-benefit pension in which they contribute only .2 percent of their gross pay towards their retirement.

Governor Walker’s bill would raise the average employee contribution to 5.8 percent of salary for pensions and 12percent toward health insurance premiums.

As the Wall Street Journal wrote today,

If those numbers don’t sound outrageous, you probably work in the private economy. The comparable nationwide employee health-care contribution is 20% for private industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average employee contribution from take-home pay for retirement was 7.5% in 2009, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute.

In other words, even with the changes, they are still doing better than the national average of private sector workers!

Public sector union workers just don’t want to say it’s about the money. They don’t want to admit that even with the changes, not only will they still be substantially better compensated than private workers, but will also still pay less towards pensions and healthcare than the average government worker across the country.

Unwilling to admit that, they’re going to extremes. They’re drawing parallels between Gov. Walker and Hosni Mubarak, the recently deposed dictator of Egypt. They’re calling it a “throwback” to “communist Poland and East Germany.” And if all else fails, they pull out the tired line – it’s all about the kids.

Of course, it’s tough to say it’s all about the kids when 40 percent of the teachers called in sick, in an apparent protest to the proposed cuts. If it’s about the kids, you’ll get in the classroom and teach.

But it’s not about the kids, or human rights, or Gov. Walker being a fascistic dictator, it’s about money. And the bottom line is that the state has to save more of it. Ideally we’d do this through shared sacrifice, but the public sector unions have shown no desire to be a part of it.

by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee