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Wisconsin’s Teacher Protests: What the Protests are About

  • Posted on February 21, 2011 at 6:39 AM

Sometimes it’s difficult to keep my political blogging past in the past.  When Wisconsin makes the national news day after day, it’s difficult.  When my kids’ schools are closed due to political protests, it’s difficult.  I wanted to post about the protests on Friday, but I resisted…for a while, anyway.  The more I thought about it, the more I saw this as an opportunity to post about what the protests are NOT about.  But first, I’ll post about what the protests are about.

According to the union protesters:

  • This bill eliminates the union’s ability bargain with local governments and endangers their union’s ability to protect workers’ rights.

According to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:

  • Wisconsin is broke.
  • He was elected to shore up deficit spending.
  • He will reduce how much money the state provides to local governments to fund vital services.
  • This bill provides tools to those local governments to keep government jobs and keep costs under control.
  • This bill does so by increasing the amount government workers must contribute to their retirement and health care benefits, while limiting the union’s ability to negotiate with local governments, requiring local voter approval for negotiations.
  • Workers rights are protected by Wisconsin law, not the union.

Personally, I think the union has motivated the workers they represent to protest due to another facet of this bill:  It gives worker the choice to join the union or not.  Workers currently do not have that choice in Wisconsin.  For example, if you are hired to work as a teacher for the public school system, you are automatically part of the union and you automatically have to pay union dues.  You join the union or you don’t work as a teacher.  The unions want to protect this status quo, because it increases their rosters and the amount of dues they collect.  I believe that is the primary reason the union has worked so hard to stir up their members.

This is also the primary reason I do not agree with the protesters.  There is a lot of misinformation being disseminated on the news stations.  Hailing back to my political blogging days, I did something profound:  I actually read the bill.  Governor Walker is right; it does limit the union’s powers.  It does not eliminate them as protesters and pundits have claimed.  It also does not increase the amounts workers will have to contribute by nearly as much as many pundits have claimed.  However, the bill is also disingenuous, as most pieces of legislation are.  It is disingenuous because it lumps things like whether or not union membership can be forced on a worker with an emergency budget bill.  That kind of thing happens a lot, but it shouldn’t.

While I support Governor Walker’s efforts to respond to the havoc the recession has wrought on Wisconsin’s economy, I don’t support his decision to include anti-union legislation with an emergency budget bill.  While I support workers’ right to protest for the issues that are important to them, I cannot join in a protest that supports forcing workers into a union.  Nor do I think it reasonable for government workers to stay isolated from the effects of the recession when that isolation contributes to the hardships the taxpayers must endure.  It’s a tough choice, but Governor Walker was elected to make it.