Friday, February 18, 2011

The real issue for union protests in Wisconsin

By now, most people - or at least those who don't live and die by American Idol - have heard about what's going on in Wisconsin. Michell Malkin has a good roundup on her blog, in case you'd like a single source to follow her updates.

Depending on which side is speaking, this is either a noble and necessary effort to return the state to fiscal sanity or a devious plot to break the unions.

If you listen to what the union supporters say, they give everything to work on behalf of the citizens, they 'sacrifice,' they're the only middle class and they've given concessions to help the situation. They also say that making them pay a portion of their pensions and a portion of their health insurance costs is 'unfair.'

But the main issue - the one that I believe is really motivating the unions (not the members, specifically) to protest is that their income is on the line. It's the money, stupid.

Now, you've probably not heard about these provisions in the proposed law:

1) The proposal to remove the requirement for state employees to belong to a union. No longer would a state employee have to join a union upon getting a job with the state. They could join, but they wouldn't have to.

2) The proposal to eliminate automatic deductions from paychecks for union dues. In most government sectors with unions, the dues are deducted from the employee paycheck and forwarded directly to the union by the governmental entity. If the law passes, employees will have to pay the union directly - after they cash their paychecks.

3) The proposal to require an annual vote to maintain a union's certification with it members. The current members of the bargaining union would be able to decide yearly if they want the union to continue representing them.

In looking at all three of these proposals, they could have a dramatic effect on union coffers. Many people would choose to join a union, but a significant portion wouldn't. If you had to actually write a check to the union instead of letting your employer take it from you before you even see it, are you going to be more or less likely to pay - and then monitor how your money is being spent? And if you could vote - every year - on whether or not you wanted a union to represent you, imagine how responsive that union would have to be to continue to earn your support, especially when any number of other unions could vie for your attention. If they didn't do a good job, they'd lose you (and everyone else) as dues-paying members.

I believe the real reasons the unions are mobilizing so strongly isn't because of terms they could negotiate - like pension and health care contributions - but because their bottom line is at risk.

This isn't really about representing their members. If it really were about the 'all for one' approach, no union would accept layoffs for some in order to keep wage rates for the remaining. But that's something they do regularly - especially in the public sector. They willingly sacrifice the jobs of some of their members in order to maintain what we now know are unsustainable compensation levels for the remaining.

And when union members realize that the union which claims to be working on their behalf is really working on its own behalf, such laws as Wisconsin is proposing will be the least of their worries.

***Sidenote: According to this summary of the Governor's proposal, the collective bargaining proposals do NOT apply to all unions:

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. (emphasis added)


Timothy W Higgins said...


Isn't it interesting that we hear so much in the protests in the WI capitol.

We hear teachers say that it's about the children, when the children are suffering from a lack of instruction during this work stoppage. We hear other govt unions say that it's about a shrinking middle class, when they are making more than and taking more from those they claim to represent. I may have a solution for a couple of aggrieved groups however.

When I hear from police and firefighters that they deserve more because they put their lives on the line every day, I now think that they should be paid based on this defining point. Accordingly, I believe that they should be paid based on the equivalent rate for their rank in the armed forces.

If placing your life on the line is the guideline for the value of service, who better than those defending this country around the world to set the standard for those on the front lines at home.

Let the unions oppose this and see how much sympathy they get from a war-weary citizenry.

Maggie Thurber said...

interesting suggestion, Tim...I do wonder what would happen then.

want to play a game? let's see how fast we can get this idea to go viral....

Test Blog said...

Great idea, sharing it..

Richard said...

Tim poses an interesting solution but, as a retired member of the US NAVY, I shudder to think what COULD be demanded from the taxpayer IF such a proposal were put in place.

I would agree with this IF police and fire salaries were based ONLY on military BASE PAY. That retirement was only available when the recipient reached the current retirement age and calculated on the same scale as military retirement, ie: 50% of base pay after 20 years service plus 2.5% for every year past 20 for a maximum of 75%.

Medical insurance as a CO-PAY with the recipient SHARING the cost, similar to military TriCare.

That government employees fall under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act, the same as military retirees.

I dread the thought that many police and fire personnel consider themselves a "military" organization when in fact, a great many of them have absolutely NO CONCEPT of what military service is all about in the first place! They may be "para-military" but in no way are they close to being military! Our military has NEVER been able to strike or even unionize and if we, in the military, EVER tried the "blue flu" scam, we would face very serious consequences!

I propose the END to double dipping by anyone who retires only to be hired back into the same position that he/she retired from. (If they intended to come back, they should not have retired in the first place!)

Now Maggie, shall we see how "viral" my suggestions get?

Maggie Thurber said...

Richard - first, thanks for your service! Rather partial to the Navy as both my Dad and brother served.

The double dipping is a big issue and one that doesn't seems as easy to prevent as people first think. For instance, someone who retires and then goes right back into the same job with both their old salary and their pension payments is clearly wrong and almost everyone agrees that should end.

But what about someone who retires from a position and then, several years later, gets hired into a new position with a different employer but is still subject to the Ohio PERS system. Is that really 'double dipping'??? How is that any different from the private sector where a person retires, collects a pension and then takes a new job with a new employer and still gets wages?

What about a person who retires after 35 years and then, in a couple of years, decides to run for office, gets elected and then becomes eligible again for PERS? Does it make a difference if the person's first pension is from a public or private employer?

You see, it's not cut and dried...

but I like it.

Aaron said...

Ms. Thurber,

"Does it make a difference if the person's first pension is from a public or private employer?"

YES, the public employee are still requiring us taxpayer to pick up their pension and health package again when they are employed in another public position after they retire from their first public position. So here we go, subsidizing them with our taxes again.

The private employee do not have these perks. They need to work a post-retirement probably to make ends meet. Their pension may be a 401, IRA, social security, union(private) that needed to make major cutbacks to their members. These pivate employees had to make their pension and health pick up from their wages.

Public Employee-DOUBLE DIPPER
1) Pension and health pick up by taxpayers, first job.
2) Pension and health pick up by taxpayer -AGAIN- second public position job

Private Employee-DOUBLE DIPPED
1)(a) Pension and health pick up from their own wage
(b) Pension and health pick up from their wage (again).
2) Second job, see #1 above.

I won't see it as double dipping if a retire public emlpoyee were working in a private sector job, he or she may need it also to make ends meet like those retire private employee too. They to will be taxed to pay those pension and health pick ups for those double dipper.

Maggie Thurber said...

Aaron - there's a difference between a pension that is 'picked up' by the public employer versus the arrangement that the private sector has with regard to SS. All employers pay a contribution to the employee retirement, regardless of their status as public or private. So it is logical and reasonable that public employers contribute, along with the employee, to Social Security or the state equalivalent.

When the employer 'picks up' some or all of the employee portion, you've got a problem. But remember that no all public employers 'pick up' the employee portion.

I'll respectfully disagree in terms of your double-dipping position. I don't think a person who has worked and then retired, who then goes to another employer and another job is 'double dipping' whether they get a social security retirement payout, a private company's pension payout or a state PERS retirement payout.

The fact that the public is paying them doesn't change the relationship between the employer and the employee nor negate the obligation of the employer and employee to jointly contribute to the system.

I would be in favor of examining the rules relating to social security and how they govern earnings after retirement to see of state pensions need to have similar rules.

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