My colleague Mike Guisinger had a great post earlier today on recent labor protests, including the one in Wisconsin. I completely agree that Governor Walker’s proposal is an unjust assault on the economic rights of the workers, and I wanted to highlight a few more aspects of this troubling and absurd situation.
First, it’s worth asking whether public sector workers have anything to do with Wisconsin’s budget shortfall. The answer is a clear and resounding “No.” Mike pointed out that the earnings and benefits of public employees lag behind those of their private sector counterparts, so they clearly aren’t being overpaid. Even more significantly, though, Wisconsin was supposed to end the fiscal year with a surplus, but now they’re going to end up with a deficit. How did this happen? It turns out that Governor Walker signed off on legislation that gave significant tax cuts to businesses, which will land the Badger State in the red. If anyone can be blamed for Wisconsin’s budget problem, it’s the state government’s elected officials, not its employees.
It’s pretty clear that Walker’s proposal is not only bad policy but bad faith as well. That he threatened to call the National Guard on protestors makes it clear—if it ever wasn’t—that he’s not simply trying to balance the budget (if at all) but directly attacking public workers. It also doesn’t make any sense that firefighters and police maintain their collective bargaining rights under the proposal. Why exempt these groups? There don’t seem to be any budgetary reasons for doing so. Instead, the exemption is probably either a sign of favoritism or a desire not to provoke the more powerful public workers. Either way, it is yet another sign of Walker’s insincerity.
But I’m optimistic about how the situation will turn out. Wisconsin’s Democratic legislators are going to great lengths to support the protestors. America hasn’t seen labor protests like this in years, and Walker’s proposal is so extreme that I can’t see it holding up to public scrutiny for too long. But however things turn out, this is a big event, and definitely one to keep your eyes on as it unfolds.
(Photo by paulbaker used under a Creative Commons license)