Conservative Corner: The Wisconsin Legacy

Could a law that so swiftly deflated public unions’ power in Wisconsin become the pattern for Florida? It’s labor’s worst fear.
Three years ago, a labor leader named Marty Beil was one of the loudest opponents of Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill,” a proposal that brought tens of thousands of union protesters out to the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison in frigid February weather. Beil warned that the bill would cripple the state’s government employee unions. It would also bring to light the pension balloon that has surfaced with cities in bankruptcy, like Detroit.
Since the law was passed, membership in his union, which represents state government employees, has fallen 60 percent; its annual budget has plunged to $2 million from $6 million.
The Feb. 23, 2014 New York Times carries the story on Act 10, Governor Walker’s landmark law. It severely restricted the power of state employee unions to bargain collectively, and that provision, among others, has given social workers, nurses, road crews, and others, little reason to pay dues to a union that can no longer do much for them.
“It’s had a devastating effect on our union,” Mr. Beil, it’s executive director, said of Act 10. He was sitting in his state office, inside the headquarters that his collective, hard up for cash, may be forced to sell. The building is underused anyway, as staff reductions have left many offices empty.
The law bars the collective from bargaining over pensions, health coverage, safety, hours, sick leave, pensions, or vacations. All they can negotiate is base pay, and even that is limited: any raises they win cannot exceed inflation.
Along with being a Right to Work State, an Act 10 could keep Florida out of outrageous State spending. The “unfunded” pension system is the major quicksand. It’s so easy to “give into it,” because it’s paid off in the “future,” you know, when it’s to be a liability to be paid under some one else’s term in office.
Gov. Walker’s tough stance toward accountability has steeled governors and mayors grappling with large unfunded pension obligations. And his criticisms of pensions have been reinforced by the turmoil in Detroit, where the often-generous and sometimes scandal-ridden pension system played a substantial role in the city’s bankruptcy.
“You’re seeing more politicians willing to stand up to public-sector unions,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University. “Fairly or unfairly, public-sector unions are increasingly being seen as part of the problem.”
Gov. Walker points proudly to the effects of Act 10. He says the law has given government officials far greater freedom to make budgetary decisions, allowing the state and its 72 counties and more than 440 school districts to save $2 billion. The Governor says: the reforms have done exceptionally well in terms of the financial benefits they provided. Many people don’t fully realize that the lasting reform of Act 10 is it helps communities balance their budget.
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