The hypocritically ingenuous ploy of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to dismantle collective bargaining rights for public employees may be unraveling.
The latest New York Times/CBS News poll indicates Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent. Noted the New York Times:
Asked how they would choose to reduce their state’s deficits, those polled preferred tax increases over benefit cuts for state workers by nearly two to one. Given a list of options to reduce the deficit, 40 percent said they would increase taxes, 22 percent chose decreasing the benefits of public employees, 20 percent said they would cut financing for roads and 3 percent said they would cut financing for education.
The poll comes as American’s watch an epic labor battle unfolding in Wisconsin. Newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker, with financial backing from the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers and other corporate interests, proposes to do away with collective bargaining rights for unionized public employees.
Republican lawmakers in Indiana and Ohio threaten to take similar action against union backed public employees.
Wisconsin’s employee’s unions offered to take wage and benefit cuts, but Walker persists. He says abolishing collective bargaining is a necessity to reduce Wisconsin’s budget deficit.
Interestingly, There is no evidence that public-sector workers in Wisconsin have higher total compensation than their counterparts in the private sector.
In a Bloomberg Businessweek editorial this week, Tom Juravich, professor of labor studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst says it’s true that a gross comparison shows many public-sector workers earn more, but they are significantly better-educated than most workers in the private sector.
When one compares Wisconsin public-sector workers with their real counterparts, as the Economic Policy Institute has done, Wisconsin pays its public-sector workers 14.2 percent less than workers in the private sector.
Based on the latest polls, many Americans appear to be asking; “What’s wrong with this picture?” I admit, I’m one of them.
I believe Americans should have a voice in their workplace. Employee voices have helped create innovation and profit for their employers as well as better, safer working conditions for all.
The voice of employees isn’t the only one in the workplace, but it is an important voice that some would like to see silenced. What a mistake that would be if it were to happen.
I do know this from my own experience: Dozens of our neighbors here in Nebraska, and before that in Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and Kansas, were teachers, firefighters, public health care workers and police officers.
They are good people and good friends. Many belong to public employee unions.
They work extremely hard. They care about what they do for a living.
They support their families and watch over their neighbors. They make their cities better, safer, more educated places to live.
What they earn, they work hard to get.
When I was growing up, these public employees spent their salaries supporting businesses owned and operated by folks who also lived in the neighborhoods where I grew up.
These owners sent their kids to the same schools I attended. If they could, they hired me and my friends as employees when we were old enough to work. When some of those owners retired, they sold their businesses to my friends who they had hired, trained, mentored and trusted.
Growing up in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, the wealth created in the towns where my family lived, stayed in our city.
The firefighter’s family spent part of their pay at the locally owned grocery store. The locally owned grocery story brought and then sold to customers locally produced crops, livestock, eggs and dairy products.
Some of the grocery store’s cashiers, sackers and stock boys were the sons and daughters of the fighterfighter’s family and other local workers.
Wealth wasn’t exported to someone, somewhere else, who didn’t care about my city, never visited my town, didn’t want to know me, my neighbors or my family.
I’ll say it again; The wealth created in our city, stayed in our city. Our city grew, more people prospered, more opportunities appeared.
Doesn’t that sound like the American Dream?
Last weekend, Greg Sargent mentioned a Gallup poll in his Washington Post column that also spoke about the way most American’s feel towards the rights of public employees. Turns out that the only income group that favors Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to roll back public employee bargaining rights are those who make over $90,000.
The Gallup poll found 61 percent of Americans oppose Walker’s plan, versus only 33 percent who are in favor. The Gallup crosstabs even gave us an income breakdown of the Gallup poll. Wrote Sargent:
* Among those who make less than $24,000 annually, 74 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 14 percent who favor it.
* Among those who make $24,000 to $59,000, 63 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 33 percent who favor it.
* Among those who make $60,000 to $89,000, 53 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 41 percent who favor it.
* Among those who make $90,000 and up, 50 percent favor the proposal, versus 47 percent who oppose it.
Only the last, highest-income category favored Gov. Walker’s proposal; working and low-to-middle class folks all oppose it.
Writing in last week’s Ad Lib section of the Washington Times, Catherine Poe cited another recent study. It finds that for the most part, college educated public workers not only earn less than their counterparts in businesses, they have seen their median pay fall even further behind, while those with high school educations usually earn somewhat more. Click here to see how your state ranks.
Plus the public sector employs twice the number of college educated than do businesses. To make up for the salary differences, states usually do offer good pension and benefits. The deal is basically: don’t take as much up front and we promise you will be compensated down the line.
Here’s the kicker on Gov. Walker’s war against working class public employees in Wisconsin: It followed a special session with Wisconsin Republican lawmakers who passed and signed into law two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy change that will lower the state’s tax revenues an estimated $120 million through 2012.
Walker’s new business friendly legislation actually turns a projected Wisconsin budget surplus into a deficit. Gov. Walker doesn’t have to try to dismantle collective bargaining rights of public workers to drive his state deeper into debt.
Then again, that’s not Walker’s point. Is it?