Thursday, August 11, 2011

The NY Times Gets It Right On Wisconsin

Like it or not, the Democrats won Tuesday night. A partial victory? Yes, but a win nonetheless:

Five months after Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin pushed through a law stripping public unions of their bargaining rights, the Republican Party has paid a price. Two of the state senators who backed the law were thrown out of office by voters on Tuesday and replaced with Democrats. Mr. Walker’s opponents did not succeed in turning over the Senate, but it was still an impressive response to the governor’s arrogant overreach.

[...] Mr. Walker and his colleagues tried to paint the unions as unwilling to sacrifice a bit of their pensions and health benefits in rough fiscal times. It was heartening to see more than 160,000 Wisconsin voters reject that false notion. The unions had already agreed to significant concessions on both; what the Republicans really wanted was to break their organizing ability by ending bargaining on anything except wages and limiting raises to inflation.

Here's the thing: civil servants surrender the opportunity to make a market wage when they accept a civil service job. They are, de facto, austerity measures that governments avail themselves of.

In consideration of this surrender of this opportunity, the government provides two things: 1) job security, and 2) awesome benefits. The job security is a reward for the past consideration of having worked at lesser wages in the same position that the private sector would pay a premium for. The benefits, like healthcare, is a prophylactic measure to entice civil servants to not look elsewhere for employment. Necessarily, these have to be juicier than the benefits available to a private sector worker, else what's the point in paying a lower wage? People will simply leave for better jobs.

It's kind of a win-win: the government gets a budget savings. The employee gets a job for life, free dental and eyecare, and a nice pension at the end of it all.

Until conservative asshats liek Governor Walker decide to get greedy. This is where unions step in. A municipal union serves many functions, but primary among these is a bulwark against the political tides that threaten to disrupt good governance. The idea behind lifetime employment, the lower wage/bigger benefit scenario, is to foster stability on the part of the staff.

Implicit in that is the need to protect that staff from the political vagaries of different political views overseeing their work. Note, this is not a policy decision, which can and should be appropriately changed with new administrations. No, it's about keeping the people in place who will provide continuity to those changes.

Also implicit in this "contract" is the need for the staff to know that they are being treated fairly. Clearly, Walker missed this lesson in B-school (if he ever bothered to attend one.) If you want good work, don't screw your workers.

Walker screwed his workers. He's going to now pay a price. Moreover, so will Winsonsinites, which is why so many of them, maybe even most of them, are so pissed off at him.