In the same way that the foreign exchange student was weirdly the most candid person at your high school, foreign news services are a great way to catch up on long-running* stories that you somehow missed. Besides describing state senators’ flight to Illinois as “an almost comic move,” this article from the Guardian neatly sums up what’s going on in Wisconsin. Perhaps you’ve heard about this, but they’ve got some law up there nobody can agree about. Newly-elected governor Scott Walker, with the support of a Republican senate, wants to address the state’s budget shortfall by cutting benefits to schoolteachers and other state employees. He also wants to eliminate collective bargaining rights for same. Exactly what teachers’ right to negotiate as a union might have to do with the state’s fiscal problems is just one of the many fun complications people are yelling about in Wisconsin.
For example, state workers’ unions have already agreed to the fiscal part of Walker’s proposal: they’ll pay 12.6% of their health insurance premiums—up from 6%— and contribute 5.8% of their salaries toward the pension fund. An impartial observer might think that addresses the stated reason for Walker’s bill, namely Wisconsin’s projected $3 billion budget shortfall over the next two years. But Walker insists that the revocation of collective bargaining rights is necessary to avoid “massive layoffs” in the future.
Exactly how employees’ loss of group negotiating power would make layoffs less likely is unclear, unless you’ve ever witnessed what happens the year after your workplace loses its union: pay cuts that you can’t do anything about because you don’t have a union anymore. Walker’s belief that reducing workers’ rights will preserve jobs is based in his—and his party’s—larger belief that creating an environment that’s good for business owners will necessarily be good for employment. A union is bad for business owners, which means that, even though it’s designed to look out for the interests of employees, collective bargaining is therefore bad for employment.
If you enjoyed that thrilling skate along the edge of nonsense, you might be developing a taste for Scott Walker. The governor’s claim that cuts to employee benefits and union rights are necessary fiscal austerity measures has thus far been undermined by the rest of his legislative agenda. Despite his dire concern for the state budget, he’s signed approximately $117 million in tax cuts during his first month in office—including a two-year waiver of corporate income taxes for companies that relocate to Wisconsin. Walker says the cuts will send a message that the state is more “business friendly,” and it’s hard not to see his revocation of collective bargaining rights as another clear message. Come to Wisconsin, it says, where the governor will play ball.
At this point, it was my plan to discuss the decline of union membership in this country and how that A) coincides with the disintegration of our manufacturing economy and a concomitant skyrocketing of income inequality, and B) has ironically allowed business leaders to demonize unions in the popular consciousness. But I got sidetracked by Scott Walker’s Wikipedia page, so instead I’m just going to show you this graph:
…and then go on talk about what a supreme asshole the governor of Wisconsin is. Seriously, Scott Walker might embody everything that’s wrong with the contemporary Republican Party. For example, there’s this passage about his college career:
During his sophomore year, he ran unsuccessfully for president of the student government, promising to solve the school’s economic problems. The Marquette Tribune, the student newspaper, did not endorse Walker due to admitted violations of campaigning guidelines. During his four years at Marquette, he earned 94 credits with a grade point average in the C’s, but he did not complete his degree. Walker explained his reasons in a 2010 interview: “‘In the end, I figured I was in school to get a good job,’ he said. ‘So once I had one, family became more important than getting a degree.'”
If anything can be said of Governor Walker’s recent decision to pay for corporate income tax breaks by cutting teacher salaries, it is that here is the plan of a man who believes that the purpose of school is to get a job, and the purpose of a job is to have children. It’s a perfect cycle, unless you consider it even one step further. In rhetoric class, we call that the difference between a C and a B.
There’s more to question re what kind of person Scott Walker is, including the focus on job and family that prompted him to run for public office the same year he left Marquette. His private-sector employment seems to total four years with the Red Cross. When he finally made it to the state legislature in 1993, it was via a special election in which he “backed welfare reform and opposed the expansion of mass transit.” There’s also his leadership in passing Wisconsin’s truth in sentencing bill, which stopped giving prison inmates time off for good behavior. Scott Walker appears to be cold, and the more you lean about him the chiller the breeze.
But suffice to say that he’s tough on crime, tough on welfare, tough on people who need to take the bus, and tough on unions. He’s a high school graduate with a four-year employment history who cheated when he ran for college government, and he went straight from there to state politics. Not surprisingly, he found some wealthy supports who were intrigued by his plans to make it harder for people without money to get more. I submit that this is why we need unions. There’s already a union for people like Scott Walker, and it’s called the Republican Party.