Sunday, February 20, 2011

On, Wisconsin!

So, I'm clicking through Time Magazine yesterday, and I come across this column by Joe Klein, regarding the Wisconsin trade union debate. Now, I don't always disagree with Klein, but this column was just a revelation to me.
Revolutions everywhere--in the middle east, in the middle west. But there is a difference: in the middle east, the protesters are marching for democracy; in the middle west, they're protesting against it.
Actually, it sounds to me like the public employees in Wisconsin are demonstrating so that they can keep getting their voices heard, and so the government doesn't gain more control over their lives. Really, it sounds kind of like "democracy" to me.

But maybe I'm misreading the situation up there. Go on, Joe.
I mean, Isn't it, well, a bit ironic that the protesters in Madison, blocking the state senate chamber, are chanting "Freedom, Democracy, Union" while trying to prevent a vote? Isn't it ironic that the Democratic Senators have fled the democratic process?
Isn't it interesting That the Senate Republicans want to force through a bill to strip away decades of rights, and only allow it three days of debate? Why is it that they're in such a hurry again?
An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that.
Absolutely right! There was an election! And because of that, you people have to lose your civil rights! That's just logic!

(You know, it's funny. I've been hearing that quote from the Right a lot lately. "Elections have consequences." It's funny, though. You'd think that if they really believed it, they'd have been saying it after the 2008 elections, wouldn't you? But I digress.)
There are no guarantees that labor contracts, including contracts governing the most basic rights of unions, can't be renegotiated, or terminated for that matter.
Uhh... Joe? Isn't that the point here? The unions want to be able to renegotiate as needed. The governor wants to take that right away from them.

Oh, yeah. And by the way, "contracts can be terminated"? (I reworded that a little; the double negative bothered me.) Yes, they can. But, being a contract, the courts get to step in, and if it turns out that one side is not "acting in good faith," they get to face penalties for being a lying bag of douche.

That's the point of a contract, isn't it?
And 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.
Well, yeah. When you factor in all the private sector employees who don't even have heath insurance, sure. (That's about 46 million people nationwide, incidentally.)

But here's the point you're missing, Joey. "Governor Scott Walker's basic requests" - what he's asking for now. Because he's also taking away any ability to argue later, when he gets completely unreasonable.

And he will. See, Scott Walker has always been against unions. He longs for the days when the worker had no rights, and the employer could pay slave wages and fire for no reason. It's been a dream of his for years.

But again, I digress.
When I covered local government in New York 30 years ago, the school janitors (then paid a robust $60,000 plus per year)...
OK, hang on here for just a minute.

You're saying that thirty years ago, a janitor was paid almost twice what he is now? Because the current median salary for a janitor in New York is $33,483. And in 30 years, without adjusting for inflation, janitors are earning 44% less than they did in the 80's?

Man, that union sucks!

(Quick math check - 60,000 - 33,483 = 26,517 / 60,000 = 44.195% - does that sound right to everybody?)

I'll skip a little here, while Klein spends about a paragraph whining about how mean unions are. I mean, I could point out the backbreaking demands of the industrial Barons of the 1800s, leading to the formation of labor unions, which were opposed by those privileged elite millionaires who hired thugs to yadda yadda yadda...

Nobody cares. Rich people want to stay rich, and don't care who they have to destroy to do that. If you don't know this history, you're probably too stupid to care.

But that does bring us to this:
Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership. Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed...of the public?
Uh... no, Joey, that would be the government. You know, like millionaire governor Scott Walker and his billionaire backers. How is that hard to understand?

But then Joey just gets stupid.
Despite their questionable provenance, public unions can serve an important social justice role, guaranteeing that a great many underpaid workers--school bus drivers, janitors (outside of New York City), home health care workers--won't be too severely underpaid. That role will be kept intact in Wisconsin. In any given negotiation, I'm rooting for the union to win the highest base rates of pay possible...and for management to win the least restrictive work rules and guidelines governing how much truly creative public employees can be paid.
Oh, god. I swear we've covered this. Read back up to the top. I'll wait.

OK, now, since Walker wants to remove any ability of the unions to bargain for anything except base salaries... what the hell are you saying here? That they'll win on topics that they can't even argue about anymore?

You're an idiot, Klein. In fact, let's go further than that.

The basic theme here is that public employees are overpaid. According to a study by Jeffrey Keefe, professor of Labor and Employment Relations at Rutgers, public employees are compensated 3.75% less than similarly skilled and educated private-sector counterparts.

And, in fact, Scott Walker is trying to say that he has to do all this to "save" Wisconsin, to plug a big hole in the budget. But you know the funny part? Wisconsin was doing fine (in fact, they had a budget surplus) until Scott Walker became governor, and created a crisis by giving the state's money away to his cronies.

So, basically, Walker is a lying, thieving bag of fuck, with all the integrity of a rabid weasel.

And here you are, Joey, supporting him. What does that make you?


Melissa said...

Scott Walker is the governor of WIsconsin, not Wilson. The Wilsons moved to your neighborhood after leaving Washington. Walker is also known locally as "Gov. Wanker" or simply "The Bastard."

Here's the other piece: the unions basically said 'ok, we'll pay more for our health insurance, contribute more to our pensions, and take furlough days to help balance the budget' but the Governor turned them down. Because it's not about fiscal responsibility for Wisconsin: it's about removing the rights of unions to collectively bargain -- and that's about breaking the union, pure and simple. Nothing else will do: he won't negotiate.

The other piece left out: the Wisconsin state budget was in surplus when Walker took over -- the reason they have a deficit now is because he gave away tax breaks to corporations that didn't need them ... and now there's a hole in the budget, so he figures the union folks should pay for the tax breaks.

Oh, and the other part of the bill: giving the governor the authority to sell off state assets: hello windfall for the Koch Brothers.

Nice man. The rich get richer, and the rest of us pay more.

Nameless Cynic said...

You are correct about me calling him "Wilson" there at the end - thanks for pointing it out. Fixed.

That's what happens when I'm still typing after midnight...