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Showdown in Wisconsin

February 18, 2011

Picture this: protestors storming the capitol. State workers declaring that their pay and benefits are sacrosanct. University students banging drums and wearing red shirts. Schools shut down. Soldiers on standby ready to assume control of vital government services. Am I talking about Paris, France? Or Athens, Greece? Nope, I just described the scene right now in good ole Madison, Wisconsin.


The brouhaha in Wisconsin is in response to Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to end the ability of most government employees to collectively bargain for benefits such as health care and pensions. Although workers could still bargain for wages, increases would be capped at the CPI or another rate through a voter referendum. Walker also wants to require state workers to contribute 5.8% of their salary towards pensions and pay 12.6% of their health insurance premiums. By contrast, private workers contribute 7.5% towards retirement and pay 20% of health insurance premiums, on average.


Walker says he is doing this because he is facing a budget crisis. Wisconsin will run a budget deficit of $137 million this year and a $3.6 billion deficit in the next budget. The governor, a former chief executive of Milwaukee County, estimates that if he does not have the ability to demand more concessions from public sector unions, he will be forced to layoff 5,500 employees or roll back major government programs, like Medicaid.


The public sector unions and their allies have responded strongly in opposition to the proposal. Thousands have turned out to the state capitol, filling the hallways, blocking access to the General Assembly’s chambers, and banging on windows. Public schools in Madison actually closed on Thursday because 40% of the teachers called in “sick.”


But the twists and turns continue. Although the Senate scheduled a vote on the Governor’s proposal for Thursday, the vote did not happen; the entire Democrat caucus was nowhere to be found. Republicans control the General Assembly and reportedly have the votes to pass the Governor’s proposal, but they are one vote short of a quorum to conduct business. With the Democrats gone, there are not enough Senators in the chamber to hold a vote. According to some reports, the caucus decamped to a Best Western hotel in Rockford, Illinois, which is outside the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin State Patrol. More rallies, for and against the governor’s proposal, are planned for the weekend. It’s anyone’s guess as to what happens next.


The unions are targeting this reform because collective bargaining is the source of their power. By reforming collective bargaining, governors and legislators would have a stronger hand in contract negotiations to demand concessions to balance budgets and save taxpayers money. Some argue that reforming collective bargaining and labor laws could be a more realistic alternative to dealing with health care and pension costs than state bankruptcy. The stakes are high for both sides. Whatever happens in Wisconsin over the next several days will have ramifications for the rest of the nation.

This entry also appears at State Budget Solutions.



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Submitted by levelthefield at: March 5, 2011
While I voted mainly Democrat this past election, there comes a time and place to even out the playing field for the better of the population. Our Teachers union for example, has pretty much a walk when it comes to benefits. Nearly zero on paying into health benefits and can have the employer pay their pension match. Does that make sense? Their salaries are fair for their private counter parts considering they work 9 mos out of the year. I am for fair pay for the job and teachers are a key part to the states success, however, we as a state have to make sure we are able to pay -- we are severely over taxed and pretty much broke, something has to give. Taxing the crap out of businesses isn't the answer. Reducing the burden on government is the key. At some point the 12% that is affected by CBA has to suck it up and understand that there is 88% that are looking for a resolution.

Submitted by HardWorkingEmployee at: March 1, 2011
Taking the bargaining rights away does not solve the problem. I'm a Federal Worker who does not get paid as much as the private sector does. I'm tired of hearing how better our benefits are when they in fact are not. I pay way to much in Health Insurance and have to fight to get a raise, which thanks to the President has frozen for two years. I've worked as a contract employee before being hired by the Government. The Government paid the contracting company more money to have two contractors working compaired to two Federal Employees. Furthermore, the benefits as a contract employee IE. health insurance was far better. Do your research alittle more and don't be knocking the rights of the Unions who are trying to keep us from feeling the Presidents pinch on our wallets. Go after the big CEO's of the Bail Out Companies and see how they manage to keep gaining benefits when others are unemployeed. They didn't get any bail out money.

Submitted by Anonymous at: February 19, 2011
public employees do not get paid bonuses, do not get shares of stock or profit sharing so it only makes sense to make that up in other areas such as on the insurance piece. I'm a republican who is opposed to SB 5 since it takes away from the worker and allows the administration and government officials to keep their high salaries and benefits. This despite a federal auditor's report that said Ohio ranks 47th in the nation in $ into the classroom (resources/tchr pay) and 9th in $ to administration. Same report concluded Ohio had 200 too many schools. SB 5 is a "protect your own rear move" by elected officials and administration. I will gladly support SB 5 when those same folks take the same sort of cuts they are asking public employees to take under SB 5.