A Return to Strife & Strikes
February 11, 2011 4:17 PM
For four decades Wisconsin has had labor peace with its 175,000 or so public employees. That's thanks to laws that prohibit public employee unions from striking in exchange for a mediation and arbitration process. That process results in discussions and negotiations that have led to what are, by and large, fair agreements about wages, benefits and conditions of employment.
All of that would be essentially wiped out by a proposal from Governor Scott Walker to be introduced soon as part of a state budget repair bill. The Governor would limit public employee labor agreements to wages only, require unions to recertify themselves every year by a vote of their members, prohibit the collection of union dues from everyone who benefits from union representation, and force local governments to impose a one-size-fits-all employee contribution for health insurance and pensions.
And, oddly, those provisions wouldn't apply to police and fire unions, which could maintain their current bargaining rights. I'm all for allowing that for police officers and firefighters, but then why shouldn't those rules apply to snow plow operators, parks workers, and other employees? Why single out some municipal employees, driving a wedge between people who work for the same city?
This proposal is being made despite the fact that state unions already have accepted a wage cut and greater contributions to insurance payments as part of a contract that was narrowly voted down by the lame duck legislature in December. Here at the City of Madison we've had a two year wage freeze and many of our unions have accepted some tie between wages and health insurance in previous contracts. All of that was achieved through bargaining under the current system.
The recession has created the need to restrain pay and benefits, but that has been accomplished under the existing rules. That system works. Radically changing it will take us back to the days of municipal and state labor strife and probably strikes with disruptions to basic services. The legislature should carefully review the governor's proposals and recognize the value of the laws that have provided so much stability and fairness over the last forty years.