Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Wisconsin (page 2 / 5)

Union curbs rescue a Wisconsin school district

Union curbs rescue a Wisconsin school district →

Here’s some more information about the changes that Kaukauna School District is making, thanks to Governor Walker’s much attacked public sector union reforms.

Then there are work rules. "In the collective bargaining agreement, high school teachers only had to teach five periods a day, out of seven," says Arnoldussen. "Now, they're going to teach six." In addition, the collective bargaining agreement specified that teachers had to be in the school 37 1/2 hours a week. Now, it will be 40 hours.

The changes mean Kaukauna can reduce the size of its classes -- from 31 students to 26 students in high school and from 26 students to 23 students in elementary school. In addition, there will be more teacher time for one-on-one sessions with troubled students. Those changes would not have been possible without the much-maligned changes in collective bargaining.

Teachers' salaries will stay "relatively the same," Arnoldussen says, except for higher pension and health care payments. (The top salary is around $80,000 per year, with about $35,000 in additional benefits, for 184 days of work per year -- summers off.) Finally, the money saved will be used to hire a few more teachers and institute merit pay.

District swings from deficit to surplus

District swings from deficit to surplus →

As changes to collective bargaining powers for public workers take effect today, the Kaukauna Area School District is poised to swing from a projected $400,000 budget shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus due to health care and retirement savings.

“These impacts will allow the district to hire additional teachers (and) reduce projected class sizes,” School Board President Todd Arnoldussen wrote in a statement Monday. “In addition, time will be available for staff to identify and support students needing individual assistance through individual and small group experiences.”

The district anticipates that elementary class size projections for next year will shrink from 26 students to 23 students. Class sizes for River View Middle School are expected to fall from 28 students to 26 students.

Kaukauna High School classes could be reduced from 31 students to 25 students.

Huh. That’s certainly … unexpected.

(Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds, Ann Althouse, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal.)

Silly Unions, Act 10 Doesn't Violate Civil Rights

After Governor Walker's budget repair bill (AB-10) was re-instated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, our unions immediately ran off to Federal court to claim civil rights violations.

At the time, I thought that their case was exceedingly weak and more in the vein of a stupid Hail Mary attempt than a serious effort at practicing law. Today, I saw that the United States Court for the Western District of Wisconsin appears to agree with me. They denied the unions' request for a temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injuction in quite plain terms. Check out the ruling [PDF].

If you don't read the ruling, the breakdown of their argument shows you pretty clearly what they think. It’s not a final ruling yet but, if this is representative of what the court is thinking, the final ruling could be even more fun.

  • “There Is A Rational Basis For The Differing Treatment Of General Employees And Public Safety Employees”
  • “Plaintiffs’ Attempt To Reduce Act 10 To Crass Political Payback Fail”
  • “Plaintiffs Have No Probability Of Success On The Merits Of Their First Amendment Claim, As That Claim Is Without Merit”
  • “Plaintiffs Misstate The Nature Of Their Alleged Irreparable Harm”
  • “The State And The Public Interest Will Suffer Great Irreparable Harm By The Issuance Of A Preliminary Injunction”
  • “Plaintiffs Seek To Alter The Status Quo, Not Maintain It, By Asking For A Remedy That Will Result In A Completely New Set Of Collective Bargaining Statute”

The ruling is all kinds of good fun.

This entry was tagged. Unions Wisconsin

Wisconsin Takes a Step Backwards in Police Accountability

I was disappointed to see that state Representative Robin Vos is undoing one of the good reforms that Governor Doyle put into place.

In the bad old days, Milwaukee police officers had cut a sweet deal that allowed them to keep collecting paychecks and benefits when they were fired by the police chief until a final ruling on the dismissal was made by the Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission.

That meant, of course, that it was in the best interest of a fired officer - even a guilty one - to challenge and delay a dismissal as long as possible. Keep those paychecks rolling in, pardner.

And it was like that for a quarter of a century, under a law that treated Milwaukee cops differently from those in the rest of the state. When they were fired, Milwaukee police officers appealed - 96 percent of the time. And they collected salaries and benefits during that appeal time - appeal time that was dragged out. For the 26 years that the law was in effect, the appeal time for police officers in Milwaukee was double that of fired firefighter dismissals.

Back in October 2004 that cushy deal blew up, after off-duty Milwaukee police officers viciously beat Frank Jude Jr. at a house party, and three fired officers collected more than $500,000 in pay while awaiting trial. The Legislature cut off the continued pay for police accused of felonies and Class A and B misdemeanors, and in 2009 extended the cutoff of salaries and benefits for all fired officers.

That did not mean that officers who were mistakenly fired were without recourse: if they appealed their dismissals and won they were entitled to back pay - in a lump sum. That has been the standard for the past three years. It is a fair standard.

So why, early in the morning last week, did Vos and the Joint Finance Committee move to reinstate the 2008 law that would keep officers fired for things other than felonies or Class A and B misdemeanors on the payroll during the appeals process? In 2006, we noted that over the years the City of Milwaukee had paid out more than $2.5 million to officers who were ultimately fired.

Bad move, Representative Vos. It's wasteful and it assumes the wrong that: that police are blameless, that complaints are generally baseless, and that police need to be protected against the general public. Those assumptions aren't always right and acting as those they were is a good route to making sure that the police and the public view each other with hostility and distrust.

Explaining Walker's K-12 Cuts to the Kids

Explaining Walker's K-12 Cuts to the Kids →

Jeremy Shown does his part to "explain to the kids" what Governor Walker's education cuts are and how students will be affected by them.

The student/teacher ratio here in Wisconsin is about 15 students for every teacher.  I suspect your class may have more than 15 students because this ratio probably includes teachers who specialize in small groups of students that need extra help.  Regardless, a ratio of 15 is right at the national average.  A political ad that is running on TV here in Green Bay alleges that the Governor's cuts to education could increase class size to "35 to 40 kids in a class."  Again, this sound like it is intended to scare people into opposing the governor.  It's too bad that so many people will be convinced by an accusation that is almost certainly untrue.

Worth a read and something I agree with.

Herb Kohl Wants to Clear Cut the Forests?

I thought clear cutting the forests was a Republican idea. And, yet, this is what I saw in Herb Kohl's latest email newsletter:

It also reiterates the need to increase our use of energy that will never run out. Wisconsin has many great natural resources, but deposits of oil, natural gas and coal are not among them. While there is no doubt that we need these energy sources to fuel our economy, a dollar spent on oil drilling or coal mining undoubtedly benefits other states and other countries. But a dollar spent on renewable energy can support new jobs for Wisconsin.

We don’t have oil, but we do have forest resources that can be turned into biomass for our power plants, and one day into fuel for our cars and trucks.

Because clearly, cutting down Wisconsin's forests is the path to sustainability, prosperity, and responsible environmentalism.

Also, what's with the idea that Wisconsin is made worse off by sending money to other states for oil or coal? I'm currently paying $3.89/gallon for gasoline. If increased drilling in California, Louisiana, and Texas means that I'm buying gas $2.50/gallon or $1.25/gallon, I'm going to be a lot better off. That price cut will save me money on commuting, on buying packages online, on food (reduced shipping costs for supermarkets), and even on my new kitchen. (We had to pay for a fuel surcharge for getting our new refrigerator delivered, may have to pay one for getting new kitchen cabinets delivered, and may have to pay one to the guy installing our kitchen cabinets.)

Multiply my savings by all 5 million residents in the state of Wisconsin and it begins to appear that Senator Kohl is pretty wrong about the idea that money spent drilling or coal mining only benefits other states. It'd have a pretty large benefit to Wisconsin too.

Is Senator Kohl just not that bright?

How the Budget Repair Bill Passed

How the Budget Repair Bill Passed →

Minority Leader Miller made it quite clear, in a letter to Majority Leader Fitzgerald, that the Democrats had no intention of returning until and unless the collective bargaining provisions were stripped from the bill.

Senator Taylor requested an absentee ballot for the April 5 spring election.

Republican senators were convinced that the Democrat 14 weren't interested in true negotiations, only in posturing and obstruction. So they voted to pass the bill anyway, after making sure that the slightly altered bill was legal.

This entry was tagged. Unions Wisconsin

Last Night's Vote Was Legal

Last Night's Vote Was Legal →

There was some discussion today about the notice provided for the legislature’s conference committee. In special session, under Senate Rule 93, no advance notice is required other than posting on the legislative bulletin board. Despite this rule, it was decided to provide a 2 hour notice by posting on the bulletin board. My staff, as a courtesy, emailed a copy of the notice to all legislative offices at 4:10, which gave the impression that the notice may have been slightly less than 2 hours. Either way, the notice appears to have satisfied the requirements of the rules and statutes.

Link bonus: The text of Senate Rule 93 and the text of Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law which says that the Senate rule takes precedence over the Open Meetings Law.

This entry was tagged. Government Wisconsin

The Democrats Are Coming Home

The Democrats Are Coming Home →

Sen. Jim Holperin said Thursday that he was on his way home to Conover and other Democrats were either on their way back or would be leaving soon.

He says there was no reason for them to stay away any longer since Senate Republicans passed the bill without them on Wednesday night.

This entry was tagged. Government Wisconsin

Badgering the Witless

Badgering the Witless →

Iowahawk returns to the subject of whether or not Wisconsin's unionized school system trumps the non-unionized nightmare that is the Texas public school system.

Spoiler: it doesn't.
Further spoiler: Wisconsin is not doing well, at all, in educating minority students.

The Unions Didn't Agree to Anything

The Unions Didn't Agree to Anything →

Wisconsin public unions have been saying for weeks now that they had agreed to Governor Walker's benefit cuts and that the Governor should leave their collective bargaining "rights" alone.

Well, they've been busy signing new 2-year contracts that either don't include the cuts or (in some cases) actually have pay and benefit increases. Guess they haven't been quite honest with people of Wisconsin after all.

This entry was tagged. Unions Wisconsin

Is a Texas Education That Bad?

Is a Texas Education That Bad? →

Iowahawk steps out of character for a moment to set Paul Krugman straight. Krugman has been claiming that Texas, without collective bargaining, has an education system that ranks far, far below the education system of Wisconsin, which does have collective bargaining.

It turns out that, once you control for the ethnicity of the overall population, Texas students out perform Wisconsin students, ethnicity by ethnicity.

Walker’s Budget and Collective-Bargaining Reform

Walker’s Budget and Collective-Bargaining Reform →

Scott Walker has intended to cut state spending by $2.4 billion all along. The Budget Repair Bill, that limits collective bargaining, was intended to give local governments more tools to reduce costs besides just eliminating programs.

Christian Schneider details some of the ways that Walker's repair bill will help cut costs.

Channel your inner Jim Doyle!

Channel your inner Jim Doyle! →

Wisconsin's Senate Democrats have finally proposed their own financial fixes, for the 2009-2011 budget shortfall. The Recess Supervisor pokes fun at it.

In other words, $79MM in additional cuts made by DOA that they say they can't find yet, $43MM of payments delayed to the 2011-13 budget that will cost us $7MM to execute, and a $43MM raid on the statutory balance requirement.

Man, this would make Jim Doyle blush.

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.

This entry was tagged. Unions Wisconsin

Unions: Public Sector Unions Are Different

Not all unions are created equal. Public sector unions are fundamentally different from private sector unions. While private sector unions can serve a valuable function, public sector unions exist in a different world, with different constraints and a different history.

Private and public sector unions are different historically. While there's a long of history of private sector unions (based on both negative rights and positive rights), public sector unions have only been around since the late 1950's. The shape of that history has also been dramatically different. Take it away, Jonah Goldberg:

Traditional, private-sector unions were born out of an often-bloody adversarial relationship between labor and management. It's been said that during World War I, U.S. soldiers had better odds of surviving on the front lines than miners did in West Virginia coal mines. Mine disasters were frequent; hazardous conditions were the norm. In 1907, the Monongah mine explosion claimed the lives of 362 West Virginia miners. Day-to-day life often resembled serfdom, with management controlling vast swaths of the miners’ lives. Before unionization and many New Deal–era reforms, Washington had little power to reform conditions by legislation.

Government unions have no such narrative on their side. Do you recall the Great DMV Cave-in of 1959? How about the travails of second-grade teachers recounted in Upton Sinclair's famous schoolhouse sequel to The Jungle? No? Don't feel bad, because no such horror stories exist.

Government workers were making good salaries in 1962 when President Kennedy lifted, by executive order (so much for democracy), the federal ban on government unions. Civil-service regulations and similar laws had guaranteed good working conditions for generations.

The argument for public unionization wasn't moral, economic, or intellectual. It was rankly political.

Traditional organized labor, the backbone of the Democratic party, was beginning to lose ground. As Daniel DiSalvo wrote in “The Trouble with Public Sector Unions,” in the fall issue of National Affairs, JFK saw how in states such as New York and Wisconsin, where public unions were already in place, local liberal pols benefited politically and financially. He took the idea national.

The plan worked perfectly — too perfectly. Public-union membership skyrocketed, and government-union support for the party of government skyrocketed with it. From 1989 to 2004, AFSCME — the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees — gave nearly $40 million to candidates in federal elections, with 98.5 percent going to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Private and public sector unions also face different bargaining conditions. Private sector unions bargain with employers who face competition of their own. The employer must find ways to satisfy the union demands for pay and benefits without paying so much that it goes out of business. The union (mostly) recognizes this and limits its demands accordingly. Private sector unions are also paid with money earned from selling products or services to consumers who bought them voluntarily.

Public sector unions bargain with a single employer who faces no competition whatsoever. The employer satisfies the union demands for pay and benefits not with its own money but with money taken from the public purse. This limits the incentive of the employer to drive a hard bargain. Unions recognize this and increase their demands accordingly. Because public sector unions are paid with money taken from taxpayers who have no choice in the matter, taxes can always be raised to compensate for increased demands.

Private and public sector unions have different effects on the rest of the population. Private sector unions work for employers who provide goods and services as part of a free wheeling market place. If a private sector union strikes, it risks having consumers permanently move to a competing supplier. If a public sector union strikes, it deprives the citizens of an urgently needed service -- generally one that isn't provided by anyone else. A striking public union holds citizens hostage to its demands.

(Peter Kirsanow, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board, lists other constraints that apply to private sector negotiating but not to public sector negotiating.)

Public sector unions also deprive the voters and their representatives of the final say over government spending. A huge percentage of the government's budget -- of any organization's budget -- is spending on salary and benefits. But in areas with public sector unions, the government doesn't directly set salary and benefits. Instead, it can only set the amounts that the unions will agree too. This ultimately gives the union final authority over the government's budget. This was recognized by a 1943 New York Supreme Court decision.

To tolerate or recognize any combination of civil service employees of the government as a labor organization or union is not only incompatible with the spirit of democracy, but inconsistent with every principle upon which our government is founded. Nothing is more dangerous to public welfare than to admit that hired servants of the State can dictate to the government the hours, the wages and conditions under which they will carry on essential services vital to the welfare, safety, and security of the citizen. To admit as true that government employees have power to halt or check the functions of government unless their demands are satisfied, is to transfer to them all legislative, executive and judicial power. Nothing would be more ridiculous.

Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized that public sector unions were a bad idea.

All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public-personnel management. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people.

There is one, final, crucial difference between private and public sector unions. Public sector unions get to pick their own bosses, their own negotiators. This turns them from just an organization that protects their members to an organization that acts as a giant special interest. They are able to take the union dues that their members are forced to pay and spend a large portion of those dues on political lobbying.

As they sit across the negotiating table, they are able to implicitly threaten the negotiator with a loss of his own job or to implicitly support him with future campaign contributions. Nothing is said openly. Nothing needs to be said openly. Everyone at the table knows how the game works. The representatives and negotiators who play nice will be handsomely reward during the next election campaign. Those who do not can expect to be attacked endlessly.

This is not just a theoretical concern. Professor Bainbridge reviewed the evidence against public sector unions and found it persuasive.

Research by Terry Moe (22 J.L. Econ. & Org. 1) into the electoral power of teachers' unions finds just such an outcome:

The first study ... provides evidence that teachers, acting through their unions, are quite successful at getting their favored candidates elected to local school boards. When a candidate is supported by the unions, her probability of winning increases dramatically, so much so that the impact of union support appears to be roughly the same as the impact of incumbency. In terms of total impact, union influence may be even greater than this suggests, because union victories literally produce incumbents—and the power of incumbency then works for union candidates to boost their probability of victory still further in future elections.

The second study ... shows that public bureaucrats' turnout advantage over other citizens is much greater than the existing literature would lead us to expect. It also offers persuasive new grounds for believing that their high turnout is indeed motivated by occupational self-interest—and more generally, that they are actively and purposely engaged in an electoral effort to control their own superiors.

Moe concludes:

The prevailing theories treat bureaucrats as mere subordinates, controlled from above by political authorities. But the control relationship can run both ways, and not just because bureaucrats have expertise and other sources of private information. In a democratic system the authorities are elected, and this gives bureaucrats an opportunity to exercise electoral power in determining who will occupy positions of authority and what choices they will make in office. It would be odd indeed if public bureaucrats and their unions did not invest in this kind of reverse control—and there is ample evidence that they do.

In effect, public sector unionism thus means that representatives of the union will often be on both sides of the collective bargaining table. On the one side, the de jure union leaders. On the other side, the bought and paid for politicians. No wonder public sector union wages and benefits are breaking the back of state budgets. They are bargaining with themselves rather than with an arms'-length opponent

Nor are these the paranoid delusions of far-right anti-union agitators. Union leaders recognize their power over their employers.

the Michigan Education Association has distributed a 40-page instructional manual for local leaders that's entitled "Electing Your Own Employer, It's as Easy as 1, 2, 3." And as one high-ranking state union official told me when I wrote Revolution at the Margins, "We knew the school system wasn't moving to Mexico," so there was no reason to work with the state negotiator on establishing a prudent salary structure.

Even when unions don't directly control the officials they're negotiating with, they can strongly influence the negotiations through political means.

Professor Bainbridge quotes from the 1971 book, The Unions and the Cities.

No such market restraint exists in the public sector except in theory since discharging teachers, sanitation workers, or police- men as a result of granting higher benefits raises very real political pressures from within the affected government department and from an inconvenienced public. Government employers too frequently yield to constituents by a grant of increased benefits to employees and then either bury the increases in the "bowels of an incomprehensible municipal budget," seek new funds, or reduce other services by reallocating the city's treasury. Thus, normal market restraints are often supplanted by political restraints regardless of economic or social impact.

Increases can be buried if the public doesn't realize exactly how well employees are paid. A teacher's listed salary may only be $35,000 or $40,000 a year. The rest of the teacher's salary is hidden inside the benefits. The Wall Street Journal did an analysis of the fringe benefits for Milwaukee public school teachers. The top of the line number may be surprising: for every $1.00 in salary that they receive, they receive another $0.72 in benefits. These benefits include a total of $0.22 put into pension plans and $0.38 put into healthcare benefits.

Benefits are also hidden from casual view by specifying that they're for life. For instance, Milwaukee school teachers receive district funded healthcare for life. The district pays 100% of the cost of healthcare at the teacher's retirement and the teacher is only responsible for the annual increase in the cost of healthcare. Historically, these promises have not been pre-funded and the future costs do not show up on the district's budget.

Here's another way that benefits can be hidden. You know that public school teachers get healthcare as part of the compensation. But do you know how they get that healthcare? Did you know that WEA Trust, an insurance company affiliated with WEAC, provides health insurance to nearly every public school employee? And that that healthcare is significantly more expensive than comparable insurance from companies not affiliated with WEAC?

BigGovernment.com provides an overview.

WEA Trust has grown very fat on public school dollars, with a net worth of $316 million and a team of 12 administrators all receiving compensation packages worth six figures per year.

Sadly, this insurance swindle is endorsed by state law.

The pressure derives from state law, which makes the identity of a school’s health insurance carrier a topic of collective bargaining between local unions and school boards. That allows union representatives to come to the table demanding expensive WEA Trust coverage, and frequently school boards give in.

[snip]

Once school districts sign up for WEA Trust coverage, and write the carrier into collective bargaining agreements, the shackles are on. And they aren't easily removed.

Local unions often refuse to have the provision stricken from school labor contracts in subsequent negotiations. If a school board presses the issue in an effort to save money, WEAC will frequently take the case to arbitration.

The Trust's business practices also complicate the problem.

Districts need employee claim histories to provide to potential bidders, but WEA Trust sometimes refuses to surrender the information, making it more difficult, if not impossible, for competitors to draft an accurate insurance estimate.

WEA Trust also reportedly threatens districts with higher premiums – by removing them from regional insurance pools with lower rates – if they consider a cheaper carrier.

Some districts have managed to break WEA Trust's shackles and the savings tell the story. Officials from 15 districts recently told EAG that they saved six figures the first year under new coverage, while still providing quality health benefits for employees. They also say the cost of their new coverage has remained steady in subsequent years.

But there is a catch. Officials at all of the breakaway districts said they had to surrender, or at least share, the insurance savings with their local unions, generally in the form of salary increases. That left them with little or no extra revenue to cover other costs.

Last year, Milton's school district was able to switch from WEA Trust to Dean Health and save $382 per month, per employee. That's not exactly chump change. This is something that other school districts around the state would also like to be able to do.

Yes, public sector unions are almost completely different from private sector unions. They are not at all the same thing and shouldn't be treated the same either by the general public or by the government. They should be treated like what they are: a special interest that looks out for its own interests at the expensive of everyone else's, like any other special interest does.

But they're not just any other special interest. They use their position as public "servants", providing crucially needed public services, to make demands of the general public. If they're rebuffed they don't just respond by campaigning politically as other special interests do. They also do whatever is necessary to inflict pain upon the general public, in an effort to further pressure government representatives. This pain can take the form of protests, slow downs, or stoppages thus depriving citizens of the services on which they depend.

Because of all of this, I do not find public sector unions to be admirable. I despise them as much as I despise every other special interest.

Did the Madison Union Strike Illegally?

This morning, on Facebook, I said that I was glad that the teachers would be ending their illegal strike tomorrow. But have Madison's teachers been illegally striking? After further research and reflection, I don't think they have been but I do think their actions came very close to a strike. A strict reading of the law kept their actions from being a de jure strike. I do believe that their actions constituted a de facto strike, however and violated the spirit of the law that allows public sector employees to unionize.

Wisconsin law governs public sector unions. Specifically, Chapter 111 governs Employment Relations. Subchapter I deals with keeping the peace, Subchapter IV deals with municipal employment relations, and Subchapter V deals with State employment relations.

Chapter 111.01 deals with the general goals of the law. One of the primary goals is to keep the peace between workers and employers, to the benefit of everyone else.

111.01(2)

Industrial peace, regular and adequate income for the employee, and uninterrupted production of goods and services are promotive of all of these interests. They are largely dependent upon the maintenance of fair, friendly, and mutually satisfactory employment relations and the availability of suitable machinery for the peaceful adjustment of whatever controversies may arise. ... It is also recognized that whatever may be the rights of disputants with respect to each other in any controversy regarding employment relations, they should not be permitted, in the conduct of their controversy, to intrude directly into the primary rights of 3rd parties to earn a livelihood, transact business, and engage in the ordinary affairs of life by any lawful means and free from molestation, interference, restraint, or coercion.

It's pretty clear that one of the goals of allowing public employees to unionize was to ensure that disputes could be handled in an orderly way, without inconveniencing everyone who depends on the work that the state and municipal employees do.

As the law continues, Chapter 111.06 starts to lay out what "unfair labor practices" are, both for the employer (1) and for the employee (2). I'll quote some of the unfair labor practices, for employees.

(c) To violate the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, including an agreement to accept an arbitration award.

I'd argue that, per the terms of the CBA for Madison's teachers, calling in sick to attend a protest meet this definition of an unfair labor practice.

(e) To cooperate in engaging in, promoting or inducing picketing that does not constitute an exercise of constitutionally guaranteed free speech, boycotting or any other overt concomitant of a strike unless a majority in a collective bargaining unit of the employees of an employer against whom such acts are are primarily directed have voted by secret ballot to call a strike.

Given that no strike has been called, I think the teachers who -- by their absence -- forced schools to close have engaged in unfair labor practices towards their fellow teachers. The teachers are arguing that their actions are merely an exercise of constitutionally guaranteed free spech. I don't know that I agree. Not when a large minority of teachers are acting collectively, with the approval and encouragement of the union, to shut down the schools.

Now, let's move specifically to Subchapter IV, Municipal Employees. Section (1)(i) and (1)(j) make it clear that teachers are muncipal employees since they are employed by school districts. Section (1)(nm) defines a strike, for municipal employees.

"Strike" includes any strike or other concerted stoppage of work by municipal employees, and any concerted slowdown or other concerted interruption of operations or services by municipal employees, or any concerted refusal to work or perform their usual duties as municipal employees, for the purpose of enforcing demands upon a municipal employer. Such conduct by municipal employees which is not authorized or condoned by a labor organization constitutes a "strike", but does not subject such labor organization to the penalties under this subchapter.

What we had in Madison last week was a concerted stoppage of work by municipal employees for the purpose of enforcing their demands that the Governor alter the Budget Repair Bill. Because the unions didn't call a strike, the union itself isn't subject to penalties but individual teachers could be. Because the teachers were demonstrating against the State, not the municipal employer, their actions do not directly meet the definition of a strike.

Section (3)(b)(4) repeats the general prohibition against violating the current CBA. Section (4)(L) bans strikes by municipal employees.

Except as authorized under par. (cm) 5. and 6. c., nothing contained in this subchapter constitutes a grant of the right to strike by any municipal employee or labor organization, and such strikes are hereby expressly prohibited. Paragraph (cm) does not authorize any strike after an injunction has been issued against such strike under sub. (7m).

Section 7m lays out the process for ending a strike.

Section (7m)(a)

At any time after the commencement of a strike which is prohibited under sub. (4) (L), the municipal employer or any citizen directly affected by such strike may petition the circuit court for an injunction to immediately terminate the strike. If the court determines that the strike is prohibited under sub. (4) (L), it shall issue an order immediately enjoining the strike, and in addition shall impose the penalties provided in par. (c).

Section (7m)(c)(2)

‘Individuals.’ Any individual who violates sub. (4) (L) after an injunction against a strike has been issued shall be fined $10. Each day of continued violation constitutes a separate offense. After the injunction has been issued, any municipal employee who is absent from work because of purported illness is presumed to be on strike unless the illness is verified by a written report from a physician to the municipal employer. The court shall order that any fine imposed under this subdivision be paid by means of a salary deduction at a rate to be determined by the court.

The Madison School District thought that these sections of law applied. They filed suit on Friday, in Dane County Circuit Court, to have the work stoppage declared a strike and to get an injunction against the strike. MTI, the local union, did argue that the stoppage wasn't a strike.

In court, MTI lawyer Lester Pines argued it was not a strike because the union made no demands against the district, a requirement for a strike under state law.

Instead, he said, teachers were exercising their First Amendment right to express their feelings about Gov. Scott Walker's plan to limit collective bargaining.

"To do so they may be subjecting themselves to discipline, to having their pay docked, but they are making that choice individually," Pines argued.

A hearing was scheduled for Monday morning but it was canceled / postponed when the teachers indicated that they would return to work on Tuesday.

I'm forced to agree that the teachers weren't technically striking, since they were protesting the actions of the State not the actions of the Madison School District. Morally, I believe the unions did engage in a strike. It didn't, quite, meet the legal definition of a strike but it came right up to the boundary. The State doesn't directly employ teachers but it does set the overall policy and rules for how school districts employ teachers. Thus, I think of the State as a related employer (a grandparent employer?). The arguments presented during the last 6 days of protest certainly sound like the arguments that striking employees would make against an employer. These demonstrations were done for the purpose of demonstrating the unions' power and attempting to force the government -- at all levels -- to agree to their demands.

I do believe the individual teachers are guilty of violating 111.70(3)(b)4. They're only innocent of violations to 111.06(2)(e) because their demonstrations were against the State instead of the municipal government.

So, I was wrong. Legally, the unions are clear. The individual teachers are guilty only of violating their own collective bargaining agreement.

The Power to Tax is the Power to Govern

For decades now state and local governments have been content to turn taxation over to the Federal governmnet. It's a pretty sweet gig. The Feds raise taxes -- capital gains, income, tarrifs, gasoline, whatever -- and get all of the voter anger and contempt. Then the Feds turn around and give the money back to the state in the form of grants, road spending bills, earmarks, or other forms of largesse.

It's an arrangement that gives State and local lawmakers the thrill of spending without the pain of actually, themselves, being responsible for taxing that much out of their residents.

It's an arrangement that does have some downsides. The biggest is the complete lack of local control. Remember the golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules. A local Madison neighborhood is finding that out the hard way.

The pedestrian walkway under University Avenue at Spring Harbor Drive may be old and spooky. But school and neighborhood officials say it's necessary to keep kids and residents safe when they cross that roadway, where drivers routinely exceed the posted 35 mph speed limit.

Now they're worried that plans for a $7 million reconstruction of 1.9 miles of the avenue -- from North Segoe Road in Madison to Allen Boulevard in Middleton -- next year don't include re-building the tunnel.

... Madison officials say it would cost $1 million just to build a new tunnel because federal laws would require it to be accessible for people with physical handicaps -- unlike the current walkway -- and so far the money isn't available.

City officials say they'd love to make the passage's users happy, and staff engineer Christy Bachmann said the city has applied several times for federal money to redo the tunnel, but the project always ranks low and loses out on the grants. Ald. Mark Clear, whose 19th District includes the underpass, said the city has to do something with the passage come next spring.

"Because the reconstruction project is federally funded, they require that the pedestrian underpass at University Avenue and Spring Harbor Drive be brought into ADA compliance or removed," Clear said, referring to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Glen Yoerger, an engineer for the city of Madison, said the reconstruction of the street, 80 percent of which will be paid for with federal funds with the remainder coming from local funds, will install curb and gutters and medians where needed along University Avenue, among other improvements.

Well, better luck next time kids. Your Aldermen, County Board members, state Assemblymen, state Senators, and Governor long ago gave up the right to actually govern this state. As a result, they're powerless to help you now.

Speaking personally, I'd love to see a State legislature and a State governor stand up to the Feds and fight to keep tax dollars. Then, take responsibility for collecting the money for local needs and spending the money in a way that will best serve local needs. The Feds are never going to be as good at knowing what your State needs as you. Quit dodging responsibility and start doing your jobs.

David Obey is Out

Holy cow. The Wisconsin Democrat is calling it quits:

In a major blow to Democrats, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey has told close associates that he will not seek re-election and an announcement of his plans is expected as early as Wednesday.

The Wisconsin Democrat faces tough poll numbers at home but until Tuesday night his staff had insisted he was running aggressively and had hired campaign staff. But a person close to him confirmed the decision to POLITICO Wednesday and said Obey was preparing to make a statement.

via Obey Won't Seek Re-election - Daniel Foster - The Corner on National Review Online.

Seeing as how I think the House Appropriations Committee is full of the most arrogant, big spending collection of corruptocrats in the entire Congress and seeing as how Congressman Obey was their Chairman -- you might say that I'm elated at this news.