I Support Governor Walker
A little over 2 weeks ago, Governor Walker introduced his Budget Repair Bill for the 2009-2011 biennium. This bill includes several changes related to collective bargaining for public sector employees.
Here is the Wisconsin State Journal's summary of the changes:
Makes various changes to limit collective bargaining for most public employees to wages. Total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on inflation unless approved by referendum. Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until a new contract is settled. Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union. Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues, and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues. Changes would be effective upon expiration of existing contracts. Law enforcement, fire employees and state troopers and inspectors would be exempt from the changes.
These changes have been heavily protested ever since the bill was introduced. Protesters have been occupying the state capitol building for over a week. They have constantly protested that the governor is attempting to take away workers' rights and virtually enslave the people who make Wisconsin great. They have even compared Governor Walker to Hitler, saying that Hitler's first step on the path to genocidal dictatorship was breaking the unions.
I find all of the emotion and rhetoric to be over the top and ridiculous. First of all, unions are a great answer to a problem that doesn't really exist any more. Secondly, this is about the rights of the workers but it's different than you might think. Collective bargaining laws do protect the rights of some workers but they also deprive workers of other rights too. It's not a simple matter of rights versus no rights. Rather, it's a competition between rights and I think the governor is tipping the balance back towards the right kind of rights. Finally, public unions are different from private unions and protesters seem to be completely unaware of the difference.
I keep coming back to one fundamental fact. The government of the State of Wisconsin exists to fulfill certain indispensable roles (law and order, for instance) and to provide certain basic services (education, safety nets, etc) for the citizens of Wisconsin. It is fully funded by those same citizens. They are entitled to the best possible services at the lowest possible costs. The State does not exist to provide a jobs program or a model for employment. I agree with Megan McArdle's view of state employment:
I don't think of state employment as a way to create, in miniature, my ideal labor utopia. I think of it as a way to procure services. I define people as being "overpaid" not if they are paid more than someone with a similar level of education, but if they are paid more than I need to pay to attract adequate workers.
If the State can save money by outsourcing functions or automating functions, it should do so. If they State can save by hiring fewer, higher quality, workers at higher pay, it should do so. The State should do whatever is necessary to provide its citizens with the best services at the lowest cost.
I believe these changes would make the State closer to being able to do that. Limiting wage increases to the rate of inflation would set a baseline expectation that the cost of government services shouldn't increase any faster than general costs in the rest of the economy. At the same time, local governments would be able to pay more for needed work, if the voters directly approved. That seems imminently fair to me.
Limiting contracts to 1 year instead of 2 years, would give local governments the ability to react quicker to changing economic conditions. They wouldn't necessarily be stuck with a contract that no longer reflects reality on the ground, in the event of a sudden economic swing (good or bad).
I very much like the fact that unions would be required to recertify annually. This will absolutely not be a problem for any union that enjoys the full support of its membership. For unions that are accurately and fairly representing their covered workers, this should be a routine humdrum sort of affair. A union would only fail to be certified if a majority of workers either fail to vote at all (indicating that they don't really care about the union and don't need it) or if a majority actively vote against it. In the latter case, that could only mean that they're unhappy with their representation and desire better representation. That's the ultimate in workplace democracy and can only lead to continued, high quality union representation.
Finally, the State would be out of the business of collecting union dues and employees would no longer be forced to pay union dues. This will have several positive effects. First, it will restore employees' free speech rights. They will no longer be forced to fund political positions that they disagree with. They will also no longer be forced to fund positions that they do agree with, if they find that they have better uses for their money. Union dues sometimes amount to nothing more than a political tax on employees. This provision will remove that tax and will ensure that employees only pay it if they feel that they're receiving something of value in return. This change will only cripple the unions if workers find that they don't agree with how their money is being spent and don't receive something of value in return. That will be another factor forcing unions to be more responsive and accountable to their members.
I strongly support the collective bargaining provisions of the Walker Budget Repair Bill.
Finally, a closing word about the political rhetoric that's been deployed against Governor Walker. I'll let David Harsanyi speak for me.
According to Nobel laureate and raconteur Paul Krugman, Gov. Scott Walker and "his backers" are attempting to "make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a Third World-style oligarchy."
Now, it's common knowledge that throwing around loaded words like "socialism" is both uncivil and obtuse, so it's comforting to know we can still refer to people as "Third World-style oligarchs." And boy, that kind of Banana Republic doesn't seem very appealing.
Democracy, naturally, can only be saved by public sector unions, which attain their political power and taxpayer-funded benefits by "negotiating" with politicians elected with the help of unions who use, well, taxpayer dollars. And you know, that doesn't sound like an oligarchy at all.
While Walker, who won office using obnoxious Third World oligarchic tactics like "getting more votes than the other candidate," is a cancer in the heart of democracy, union-funded Democrats evading their constitutional obligation to cast votes are only protecting the integrity of representative government by completely avoiding democracy.