Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wisconsin and public unions

That's this week's Scripps Howard column this Ben Boychuk. My take:

Public unions aren't organized against the public. They're organized for their members, workers who can be exploited like other workers.

But public unions face a challenge that private-sector unions don't: The employer, apparently, can unilaterally revoke their bargaining rights.

Why is Gov. Scott Walker trying to take away those rights? Because (the story goes) Wisconsin faces a budget deficit that can't be properly tackled: Overpaid teachers and clerks won't make concessions needed to bring the state's finances under control.

One problem: Almost none of that is true.

Wisconsin government workers aren't overpaid. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute shows the state's public workers are paid about 4.8 percent less than private-sector peers with similar education and experience.

And the unions have said they will make concessions -- accepting cuts in benefits and the adoption of a merit-pay system for teachers. Why won't Scott Walker take accept that for an answer? Look at the details of Walker's proposal. All the public unions will have their bargaining rights taken away -- except for the police and firefighters unions whose members tend to support Republicans. The governor is plainly using his office to break the backs of a constituency that usually supports the Democratic Party. This is ugly stuff.

Private-sector workers shouldn't think these efforts are limited to public employees. GOP union-busting knows no bounds -- the Republican-controlled House in Washington D.C. last week tried and failed to eliminate funding for the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces laws that let workers unionize.

Unions helped create a vibrant middle class in America. The middle class is faltering these days, and Republicans want Americans to believe it's the fault of lowly DMV file clerks and overworked teachers. It's not. If Republicans get their union-busting way, the pain will only get worse for all of us.

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