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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, June 22, 2024

Repair Bill bad for Wisconsin

First, let's make one thing absolutely crystal clear: The right to collectively bargain in itself has nothing to do with balancing the state budget, and taking away that right will in no way improve Wisconsin's budget crisis.

It has been argued that by prohibiting unions from asking to increase state employees' health-care benefits or number of sick days, the state will avoid extra costs. This may come to be true, but legislating on such a hunch is rarely a good idea, and is a dangerous precedent to set.

Setting that argument aside, if eliminating collective bargaining rights does not present a significant financial advantage for recouping our state budget, why is it necessary for Gov. Scott Walker's bill to include this extra preventative measure? With a strongly Republican state Legislature, Walker does not need to lose sleep worrying that the state Assembly or Senate will give any kind of leeway to union interests.

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It's one thing for state policymakers to tacitly tell unions that their bargaining efforts will be futile in the Republican-controlled state Legislature. It's another for the figurehead of the state's Republican party to push through a bill hell-bent on denying public workers' right to even try to bargain.

At a press conference Wednesday, Walker backed up the bill with this argument: ""The last thing we want to do to balance this next budget … is balance it on the backs of middle-class taxpayers.""

What he neglected to mention was that the overwhelming majority of state employees are just that—middle-class taxpayers. So, if you're following along at home, Walker thinks we need to silence middle-class taxpayers in order to protect middle-class taxpayers. It is also notable that Walker exempted Wisconsin's police and firefighter unions—the only unions that endorse him during his campaign—from the collective bargaining limits facing the rest of the state's unions.

The second argument Walker offered at the press conference amounted to telling unions that he'd based his campaign on this platform and therefore they should not be surprised that he followed through. That argument is the equivalent of walking up to a stranger and saying, ""Hey, I'm going to steal your car in four months!"" then not understanding why the person got upset after you actually stole his or her car.

Walker has assured the public that though the collective bargaining process will be transformed, Wisconsin's civil service system, including merit-hire and just punishment provisions, will remain intact. Further, the proposed pension and health-care increases are reasonable and for the most part align with the national average.

However, no matter how reasonable isolated changes may be, there is no denying the symbolic slap in the face this bill represents for our state's workers. If Walker were to go to state union leaders and say, ""We need to make some cuts here in order to not cut jobs,"" there would be pushback and negotiation, but eventually there would be compromise and agreement.

However, Walker has not done this—he gave unions no opportunity to make concessions or feel in any way at all involved in the policy negotiations.

So with all due respect, Gov. Walker, you can't have your cake and eat it, too. You can't say you're concerned about Wisconsin's workforce while crushing whatever political leverage it has left in this legislative session. You can't say you're focused exclusively on jobs while shoving political changes through the legislature as a footnote in the budget.

You can't argue that this bill will support Wisconsin's middle-class taxpayers while blatantly ignoring the fact that overwhelming majority of state workers belong to that group. You can't declare the state ""open for business"" while shutting workers out of any substantive relationship with the state that employs them.

Well, maybe you can do all of that, but you can't expect to get away with it.

We applaud the Associated Students of Madison and the Teaching Assistants' Association for their success in rallying support against this bill, and encourage Chancellor Biddy Martin to quit rubbing elbows with the governor and to start using her political sway to support the state workers she represents as the face of the university. However, there is much more to be done. Back to the Capitol!

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