Benefits bubble bursts in Wisconsin


Wouldn't you know it? The Great Jetstream (credit: Mike Royko) has arrived in Madison. ( Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / February 18, 2011 )

The crowds mobbing the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison are right: Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill is indeed an attack on organized government workers.

And it's about time.

Labor compensation is the largest component of busted local, state and federal budgets, and those costs are the horrific results of government employees' "right" to bargain collectively and, in some cases, to strike. Government employees have had the upper hand for decades thanks to collective bargaining practices, rules and laws. For example, to resolve deadlocked talks, they can require binding arbitration, which takes the decision-making out of the hands of the taxpayers' representatives and gives it to an outside arbitrator who often "splits the difference."

Public employees who regard the taxpayers' munificence as an entitlement have reason to worry. Walker's bill would limit collective bargaining to wage issues alone, cap wage increases at rises in the cost of living (unless approved in a local referendum), limit contracts to one year and freeze any wage increases until a new contract is negotiated. Union members would have to vote every year whether to retain the union as its collective bargaining agent, state agencies would be barred from collecting union dues and individual employees could refuse to pay those dues.

The bill excludes from collective bargaining home health care workers in Medicaid programs, family child-care workers andUniversity of Wisconsin faculty, academic staff, hospital and clinic employees. It empowers the governor to declare a state of emergency and fire workers who take unauthorized absences of three days to participate in "an organized action to stop or slow work."

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The bill contains more, much of which should serve as a template for the even more financially crippled state of Illinois. If the bill is an overreaction, it should have been expected.

Ah, but the Wisconsin unions now say, they would graciously contribute more for their pensions and health care benefits. Big of them. Illogically, they insist that this concession, which is too little and too late, is reason enough to call off the dogs.

That government unions would consider this a concession in the face of the depth of our growing federal, state and local financial debacles testifies to their naivete or their contempt of the public. How astonishing that the thousands who abandoned their classrooms and the Democratic senators who have abandoned their sworn duties by exiling themselves to Illinois actually think they are helping their cause. As if this wholesale desertion of their duties would generate public sympathy. If this is a "movement" that labor leaders expect to sweep the country, then it was dwarfed by last November's national elections that revealed a much larger one demanding the restoration of rationality to government.

The throngs in Madison serve only to put on public display the crassness of their motives and torches whatever remains of the rhetoric that they're "doing it for the children." They are living in the antediluvian world of Saul Alinsky and "direct action," thinking that by making enough racket, they'll defeat a fed-up public. Their tactics are as obsolete, self-serving and ineffective as an appearance by the Rev. Jesse Jackson -- which, predictably, happened in Madison.

The benefits bubble has burst, folks. Even in Illinois, a state held captive by government labor unions, the absurdity of it all is coming home. House Speaker Michael Madigan, one of labor's staunchest allies, has committed the heresy of talking about cutting back pension benefits of current employees.Rahm Emanuel, the predicted winner of today's Chicago mayoral race, is making noises about restraining union demands. Gov. Pat Quinn is talking about a major consolidation of the state's 869 school districts -- a move aimed at cutting duplicative labor costs. But that's only a start of what must happen here.

All the bellyaching by members of government unions about how tough they have it, about how hard they work for so little reward, is falling on the deaf ears of a public that works just as hard for not as much reward. Pouring more protesters crying "poor me" into Madison will only harden a disgusted public against them. As Bob Dylan, an icon of direct action, once sang, "the times, they are a changin'."


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  • Have you taken a cut in pay to help keep the bankrupt Tribune Co. from going out of business? Are you getting paid as a freelancer so the Trib won't have to pay you bennies and a pension kick? Just wondering.

  • In reply to MRMcDermott:

    Yes and yes on both questions. In fact, double yes on the first question.

  • In reply to MRMcDermott:

    So Dennnis, you're basically like the slave who's been so brainwashed that you thank your master for whipping him.
    The Tribune isn't only financially bankrupt, its editorial staff and columnists like Byrne prove it's morally bankrupt as well.

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