Jonathan Chait

Wisconsin, Whose Side Are You On?

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Joe Klein says that Governor Scott Walker only wants a few modest tweaks:

it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker's basic requests are modest ones--asking public employees to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, though still far less than most private sector employees do. He is also trying to limit the unions' abilities to negotiate work rules--and this is crucial when it comes to the more efficient operation of government in a difficult time.

Ezra Klein, no relation, has, er, a bit more detail:

Walker tries to sell the change in collective bargaining as modest. "State and local employees could continue to bargain for base pay, they would not be able to bargain over other compensation measures." But that's not really true. Read down a bit further and you'll find that "total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index (CPI) unless approved by referendum." In other words, they couldn't bargain for wages to rise faster than inflation. So, in reality, they can't bargain for wages and they can't bargain over other forms of compensation. They just can't bargain.

The proposal doesn't stop there, though. "Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the 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."

Ezra Klein also notes that Walker exempts firefighters and police officers, who endorsed Walker's election.

I might endorse the kind of deficit-driven renegotiation of benefits that Joe Klein is describing. I've frequently supported extensive reform of the union-driven wage schedule in schools. But what's actually going on in Wisconsin is a selective, politically-motivated attempt to end collective bargaining altogether in state government.

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