“This is war,” panted Michael Moore, the left-wing propagandist, after Gov. Scott Walker’s limits on government unions’ power passed the Senate. Moore sounded eager.
And he’s right. It is war. But look at who’s fighting whom.
The unions say they’re the target because Walker demanded that state workers start paying something toward their retirements and 12.6% of the cost of their health coverage. You think this a good deal; government unions think it’s Pearl Harbor. Walker also insists benefits and work rules no longer be negotiable, since collective bargaining is precisely why governments are spending twice as much on employee health as regular employers do. So, sure, he’s fighting government unions.
The unions’ war plan, however, hinges on mixing up targets. They need others, too, to imagine they’re in the sights. So they and their allies insist that it’s:
Walker vs. cities. Milwaukee’s union-friendly officials, for instance, complained bitterly about Walker ending a city-residency rule and about his plan to expand school choice, calling it hostility toward their city. Not quite. Ending the residency rule for Milwaukee Public Schools employees means that thousands of city residents will be able to live where they choose, a right enjoyed by most everyone else. Allowing families making, say, $45,000 a year to take their state aid to private schools means better schooling for Milwaukeeans. What looks like hostility to institutional Milwaukee is benefit for ordinary people.
Walker vs. your services. Madison’s Common Council president insisted that Walker’s state-aid cut – the state’s next budget is $3.5 billion underwater – would lead to “significant cuts in programs.” Said one Milwaukee County Board member, “You are going to lose your bus system.”
This ignores the obvious: Cities and counties should cut not services but what they pay for them. Milwaukee County’s unions haven’t yet agreed to start paying reasonable shares of health premiums, so just getting from them what Walker demands of state workers is a great start.
“Walker’s numbers are minimums,” notes County Board member Joe Sanfelippo. The county can ask for more; it can change to more sustainable plans. Sanfelippo’s proposed a switch from pensions to something like a 401(k), for instance. Big savings, and no massive layoffs or bus-system closure needed.
“With pension and health care benefits now non-bargained items, we’re finally in control,” said Sanfelippo. And unions aren’t.
Walker vs. the ‘working class.’ This one is rich, given that only 15% of Wisconsin works for government and is thus hurt by what Walker proposes. If anything, it’s unions vs. the private-sector majority of the working class: Unions insist on keeping their bargaining powers, winning back anything they concede and paying for it with higher taxes. Those are paid, in the main, by people who work.
What’s more, unions are now threatening boycotts of businesses that do not denounce Walker. They’ve targeted employers ranging from a T-shirt shop in Two Rivers to the ubiquitous convenience store chain, Kwik Trip. Unions are endangering the paychecks of thousands in the working class. Oh, well: Collateral damage happens.
Suppose we talk just of union members themselves. Insufficiently appreciated is that Walker’s reforms also end mandatory membership in government unions. Now, public workers will be able to join, or abstain, from union membership and dues, as they choose. It’s as if their right to make up their own minds mattered. Until now, it hasn’t.
The fact is that it is war, as Moore says. It is war of government unions, desperate to cling to remunerative power, against their employer’s owners. Those would be taxpayers.
Unions choose war because the warlike arts – fighting, regimenting, taking – are what unions do best. Conflict dominates their talk, just like that image of Wisconsin as a fist is all over their posters. The chief strategy of unions is to heighten complaint and to monetize dissatisfaction by organizing it.
It is war because the peaceful alternative, democracy, didn’t work out for the unions. They lost; taxpayers won. Don’t imagine they’ll leave it at that.