By Peter Hannaford
Demonstrators at the Wisconsin capitol, union representatives and absent Democratic state senators concede in interviews that they don't object to a bill requiring teachers and other public employees to pay 12.5 percent of their health insurance (up from five percent), or up to half of their pension deposits. It is the curbing of collective bargaining that has brought on near hysteria and a fierce campaign to discredit Governor Scott Walker's legislation.
For the union leaders the consequences of passage of the legislation could be devastating to their sinecures. Amid all the shouting, placards and banging on pots and pans in the capitol, two elements of the bill have received only passing attention. One would stop state collection of union dues. The other would require the unions to be recertified, by vote of all members, every year.
Currently, the State of Wisconsin automatically deducts union dues from public employee paychecks and it goes to the unions. The unions then use as much of the money as the leaders wish to give to candidates who will look favorably on their demands (almost always Democrats). Thus, the taxpayers are subsidizing partisan election donations.
This "closed shop" arrangement would change under the new law. Once it passed the state would no longer deduct union dues from paychecks. Employees would only pay dues voluntarily by signing a union card. The unions would have to go through the process of collecting the dues. This would increase their administrative costs and thus reduce the amount of money available for campaign donations. And, the union leaders would have to persuade employees of the value of joining. That's a lot more work than sitting back and staring at the ceiling while a trove of dues comes pouring in from the state.
The legislation would require each public employee union to hold an annual election to see if a majority of the members want to continue to be represented by it. If they do, it continues; if not, it's pffft to the union leaders and their comfy incomes.
Some of the demonstrators at the capitol in Madison have hollered about collective bargaining as a "basic right." Not really. Not only is it not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but also nearly half the states have "open shops" with no collective bargaining (or permit it only for first responders).
The governor's reasoning for restricting collective bargain for public employee unions only to wages rests on two elements: (1) to balance its budget, the state must reduce funds sent to counties and cities; and (2) restricted collective bargaining means that these local governments can adjust their own pension and health care contracts and thus help close their own budget gaps.
Those AWOL Democratic state senators say they will return soon. This means the bill will pass.
They have been reading polls (led by the New York Times, with its skewed sampling) and think the Democrats' campaign has made the governor and the Republican legislative majorities sufficiently unpopular that recall and referendum petitions will succeed and they can overturn the legislation in November.
Anyone who reads a poll in the heat of battle in March and thinks the results will be unchanged eight months later, needs a course in Politics 1A.