A Rasmussen poll says that more Americans oppose the Wisconsin public employee unions (48%) than support them (38%). But even more opposition might develop--and more support grow for Gov. Scott Walker--if the general public fully understood the reason behind the proposal to remove collective bargaining power for state employees on non-pay issues. It's not just about the current budget, serious as that is, but future budgets. It is largely because of past, poorly reported agreements that arose from collective bargaining that the unions have managed to get pension and health care packages far more lucrative than those of the vast majority of other citizens--the folks that pay the taxes to support those benefits.
Simply put, the public employees unions in Wisconsin and in many other states represent the best funded, most determined and most wily advocates of constantly increased government spending. Knowing the ins and outs of government better than anyone, and knowing also how to work their political will on elected officials (their putative bosses), they have an unnatural advantage in obtaining increased benefits. That is especially so since negotiations on long term benefits are not always seen as part of the budget process reported in the yearly budget struggles.
The public employee unions not only are the part of the polity that has the most immediate and special interest in government, but they also are a uniquely powerful position to intimidate state office holders. Consider: what other group in Wisconsin, for example, could skip work and mobilize several scores of thousands of protestors day after day at the capital? That's power.
Further, the public employee unions have the legal authority to force workers to join the union and then to pay union dues that can be used to elect political candidates the unions favor. The favored candidates, of course, are those who promise to deliver the higher pay and benefits.
As a result of both their privileged access to elected officials and their campaign finance clout, the unionized bureaucracy's role as in-house lobbyists is a major force (as I keep saying) for giving us "government of the government, by the government and for the government," in place of Lincoln's description of the our system as "government of the people, by the people and for the people."
The government employees are people, too, of course, and deserve respect and fair compensation. Many are expertly devoted to their jobs. All presumably feel that their pay and benefits are well-merited. But the problem is not the employees as individuals, or as union members, but rather the privileged position that public employee unions deploy.
Unfortunately, the full reality is not being adequately explained. Instead, on TV we are seeing a sea of slogans on protestors' signs and an endless loop of statements by the governor that he is not going to give in. There seems to be a stalemate.
The rallies probably have turned off more voters than they have won over. People are not reminded of the demonstrations in, say, Cairo or Tripoli, but the petulant public employee protests in Greece. On the other hand, the public employee unions may be winning some traction with an apparent concession offer to accept payments toward pension and medical costs in the next budget in return for retaining collective bargaining rights.
For years the public unions and their supporters in elective office have assumed that the public could be lulled on and on. Eventually, however, the piper must be paid. More of the public sense that now. Gov. Walker, with a a recent mandate from the Wsconsin voters, not only wants to put Wisconsin on a sustainable economic path this year, but to make it possible to keep it there.
Why is this point not being explained better? For me it seems to be the crux of the current impasse.