Wisconsin Better Off Because of Collective Bargaining Reforms

On the eve of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board’s special meeting to determine if they will certify the recall signatures and set recall elections, Wisconsin stands better off as a result of the reforms it passed last year.  Recent polling shows that a majority of Wisconsinites back up this perspective.

The March Marquette University Law School Poll (taken March 22-25) asked whether Wisconsin voters think Wisconsin is better off in the long run because of changes in state government or worse off in the long run.  52% of the respondents said Wisconsin is better off, while only 41% said Wisconsin is worse off in the long run (3% responded “Neither/Made No Difference” and 5% responded “Don’t Know”).

These views are likely held because Wisconsin taxpayers are seeing more and more how those changes have helped them.  Many property owners saw their property taxes decrease across the state.  In particular, the school property tax levy went down 1% for the first time in several years.

Moreover, voters are becoming more and more aware of how destructive collective bargaining was for the taxpayers.  This spring, the Education Action Group released a report that detailed many past abuses of collective bargaining agreements.

But many of the problems of collective bargaining are visible even now because union contracts are still in place in many school districts that rushed through union contract extensions to preempt Act 10’s implementation last spring.  Collective bargaining agreements forced taxpayers to pay a premium for school health insurance plans.  Many collective bargaining agreements across the state required the school district use the teachers’ union (WEAC) created company, WEA Trust, as their health insurance carrier.

Wisconsin is being reminded of how much extra WEA Trust was able to charge because many collective bargaining agreements required WEA Trust to be the exclusive health insurance provider.  Some of the school districts that rammed through one year union contract extensions at this time last year are for the first time able to put their health insurance coverage out on the open market and receive bids.

Onalaska School district is estimated to save more than $800,000 from simply changing health insurance providers from WEA Trust to Gundersen Lutheran.  Similarly, the Port Washington-Saukville School District may be able to save nearly $1 million by switching health insurance carriers and making minor changes.  Incredulously, WEA Trust initially said they would be increasing the Port Washington-Saukville School District’s premiums by 8% this year.  When WEA Trust heard that the school district would be putting their health insurance coverage out for bid, WEA Trust quickly proposed a 3.3% reduction instead of the 8% increase.

Simply put, many Wisconsin school districts have been drastically overpaying for health insurance coverage because of collective bargaining.  Now those school districts are saving large amounts of taxpayer dollars by having a fair bid process.

The problems with collective bargaining don’t stop with WEA Trust.  It also made school districts inflexible to mid-year budget shortfalls.  Milwaukee Public Schools just had a mid-year budget shortfall but were locked in to their current contract, which was extended prior to Act 10 taking effect.  The Milwaukee Teachers Union and School Board asked the legislature to pass legislation allowing them to make mid-contract concessions without nullifying their current contract (this is not permitted under their collective bargaining agreement without a change in state law).

Despite push back from other local teachers’ unions, the legislature ultimately passed the bill allowing the mid-contract concessions.  The bill was necessary because of the shortcomings of collective bargaining to allow school districts to address these situations.

Collective bargaining has consistently been ripping off Wisconsin taxpayers.  Thankfully, Wisconsin is recognizing that they are better off in the long run without collective bargaining saddling down taxpayers.