Home > Uncategorized > Cui Bono, Wisconsin, Cui Bono?

Cui Bono, Wisconsin, Cui Bono?

Two union workers are talking. One says to the other, “I like our union boss, he really cares about the working class.” The other one responds, “Of course he does, that’s how he avoids belonging to it.”

Boy, has this been a busy couple of weeks. Obama invades Libya, the NY Times accuses GE of not paying enough tax, Terry Jones burns a book, and Scott Walker is denounced as the devil incarnate by union members far and wide. Enough to keep me busy for a while.

After I posted a link to an article on National Review Online about the Wisconsin mess, starting a flurry of comments, one of my friends (a member of the friendly opposition) wondered why I hadn’t written a blog about the Wisconsin union fight. I opined that I was too poorly informed to make a meaningful contribution to the issue, and that I needed to learn a bit more. Yes, I know that many of you are now snickering that I am always too poorly informed about everything. Objections noted. So I undertook to educate myself a bit, and I did some thinking, and I came to a few conclusions.

As I understand it, Scott Walker is the duly elected governor of Wisconsin, and the legislature that sits in the capitol is also the duly elected legislature. Both the governor and the legislature were elected by majorities of the respective electorate, in accordance with state law. It’s not like Walker sits in Avignon.

Scott Walker has suggested that the state of Wisconsin, like many other government entities, is undergoing a budget crisis. In response to that crisis, Scott Walker introduced a budget repair bill. This bill is, give or take, 144 pages long. It deals with an entire host of things. The things that have gotten people heated, and gotten various Republican lawmakers death threats, is a section that makes five changes to the current system of public-sector labor-management relations. To hear the assorted people opposed to the bill, it is nothing less than the end of labor unions in America. I have been told it will gut OSHA, bring back child labor, and eliminate the EPA. I am not kidding about that.

What are the provisions in the bill that raise so much ire? I sat down one evening, and read the bill. 144 pages of legislation is a chore to read in the best of cases, but budget bills are even worse. Worse still is the fact that a bill of 144 pages makes reference to hundreds of other pages, so it was a long night of reading. As best as I can make out, here is what the bill does to public sector unions, and only public sector unions. It makes no difference to private sector unions.

The bill would:

require government workers to pay half the cost of their pensions – still less than private employees pay for their pensions

require government workers to pay 12% of their own health insurance premiums – the national average for the private sector is over 20%

end collective bargaining for government unions for pensions and benefits, allowing bargaining only for raises that are less than inflation

end forced union dues, collected by the state, allowing workers to stop the state from collecting dues on behalf of the union

allow union members to vote yearly on whether to keep their union.

None of these requirements seem all that onerous, and the package of benefits would still be in excess of that offered to the average private sector worker. There is nothing in the bill outlawing unions, or preventing them from negotiating workplace issues like grievances and unfair labor practices. Faced with a monetary shortage, they are being asked to contribute a small percentage towards their own benefits. Benefits that are significantly higher priced for the taxpayer.

That having been said, what’s really at stake here? As the Roman philosopher and lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero told us to ask two thousand years ago, “Cui Bono?” Who benefits from the status quo? Let’s see.

After he took office, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels used an executive order to end collective bargaining for public workers—a power granted by former Governor Evan Bayh. The number of state public employees has since fallen to 28,700 from 35,000. Perhaps equally important, however, the vast majority of those employees stopped paying union dues. Today, 1,490 state employees pay union dues in Indiana, down from 16,408 in 2005. Similar declines have played out in Washington State and Utah, when those states gave members the freedom to choose. Of course, with substantially less money coming into their coffers, union bosses have plenty to worry about—as do the beneficiaries of their largesse, Democrat lawmakers and candidates. AFSCME, SEIU, and the NEA don’t give money to Republicans.
This is why teachers issue death threats and labor leaders encourage the boycotts of local business owners who won’t join them at protests. The Dane County district attorney says 26 year old Catherine Windels from the village of Cross Plains sent threatening e-mails to 15 Republican state senators. The e-mails threatened, among other things, “We feel that you and your Republican dictators have to die. I as well as many others know where you and your family live,” and a group was planning on “putting a nice little bullet in your head.”

People are willing to believe that the government manipulates people, that corporations do, that republicans, or the rich, or the Illuminati manipulate people, but are unwilling to believe that unions do. I find that just a bit cognitively dissonant.

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