Letter to the Editor – Wisconsin Protests

About the protest in Madison: The network news stations are not telling the whole story. I get my info from WI public television and radio where they let both sides argue it out, and from the University Deans, Chancellors, Presidents and from independent sources. Also from some of my local politicians. I, nor has anybody else that questions the bill has been able to talk to my state senator even though appointments were made ahead of time. A few representatives have talked on radio programs.

This is mainly about Governor Walker wanting to get rid of collective bargaining (CB), forever. There is no end date to these changes. He claims that this is crucial to balance WI’s budget. Yet the WI Employees (WE) have already said they would pay more into their pension fund and more for their health insurance. WE already pay into those programs. WE have given Walker all the money he is asking for the Budget Repair Bill (BRB) and for the fiscal budget that starts in July. But he still insist on breaking the unions so he can do whatever he wants to do; more pay cuts, cut benefits, work more hours without compensation, make WE pay more-for whatever he wants.

WI was a leader in developing modern employment practices like having a 40 hr work week, having the weekend off, workman’s comp and unemployment benefits. WI workers  died for these changes. Now Walker wants to take WI back into the 1890s where workers do not have a voice and the industrial tycoons tell everybody what to do. Walker says that local governments are for this Bill but River Falls City Council passed a referendum and sent a letter to Walker and the Republicans saying that they are against the BRB and against taking away the right of collective bargaining for public workers. They understand the impact this bill and removing worker’s rights will have on the city. LaCrosse has followed suit and hopefully so will others.

Walker also claims that most of the state is for the bill yet the latest polls show that 70-74 % of the people are against it.

Gov. Walker(R-Tea party) has done a masterful job of pitting the private workers against the public workers by saying that it’s the public workers salaries and benefits that are making WI go broke. Although he was given a balanced budget when he took office, he has projected a deficit of $3.6 billion (for 2 yrs) which includes every spending bill and tax breaks that has ever crossed the Governor’s desk. Since when does every (budget) proposal get funded? This Budget Repair Bill (BRB) is to take WI through June 30th 2011. Supposedly there is a $136.7 mill deficit. But he and the Republicans pushed through a bill in January that gave tax breaks worth $130 mill to large, rich corporations . The corporations include Kock Industries (Georgia-Pacific, US Oil,,,) which is owned and ran be billionaire brothers (24B) from CA and other companies that donated to his campaign. This was done in order to make more jobs. Which is funny since Kock just laid off 140 people in WI and I doubt we’re going to get any breaks in our gasoline prices. No new jobs have come from it so far.

Kock Industries is one of the largest if not the largest private corporation in the US and seems to have major influence over Walker. Kock Industries, its subsidiaries and employees funneled over $1.2 million to governor elections in states that now want to end collective bargaining. The worst thing that happened to politics, IMHO, is when the Supreme Court said it was OK for companies to give a politician unlimited funds for their campaigns. This all reminds me of the movie “Roller Ball” where the country was run by big corporations and the individual was nothing. Walker’s opponent was backed by unions and workers so if Walker can bust the unions not only does he get the power to do anything he wants but he dramatically diminished his opponents’ (Democrats) funding raising ability.

Walker keeps saying that the public sector workers are paid more than the private sector workers but he is including in the private sector anybody that has any job, even high school students cutting grass or working at a fast food restaurant. Well, of course people with college degrees and advanced degrees should be and are paid more for their knowledge and expertise. Most WI workers have a college degree. WI is getting a lot from its public workers for its money. A Reuters article reported that the Financial Policy Institution, an independent group, said that when you compare WI’s private sector to WI’s public sector, including taking out what everyone pays for health insurance and pensions, the public workers are making 8% less than the private workers in comparable jobs. It’s even worse for University professors, they make 20 % less than their equals in other states and the discrepancy is even greater when compared to private colleges. I know that my wife puts in 75-80 hrs/wk during the school year and 20 hrs/wk during the summer when she prepares her curriculum to keep up with the advances in science, finds speakers for the seminars, orders supplies, performs her duties as the Department Chair of the Bio-tech committee and other things that are required of her. She has a PHD, did a 3 1/2 yr post-doc with NIEHS (experience in her field) and has taught college courses, chemistry and biochemistry, for 14 yrs and she could easily make, at least, 50% more in the private sector as a starting salary. But she loves to teach and impart knowledge into the students. Some of her students have already become doctors, veterinarians and workers that contribute to industry and the prosperity of WI and the USA. The average salary of public workers is $35K and that includes $140K for the Governor, not bad for a guy that didn’t graduate from college. Maybe that is why Walker doesn’t understand what it takes to get an advanced degree and that people should be compensated for doing so. The salaries of state workers, even in your state, are public-record so you can go on line and find out how much your teachers make. Don’t take someone else’s word for how much teachers and/or public workers make. The ones making the $100K+ are the administrators (Superintendents, Deans, Governor,,,).

I speak from the view point of a University professor, because that is what my wife is and since I live in a college town that is what I’m the most familiar with. Keep in mind that the K-12 teachers and school district personnel are also paid by the local governments through referendums and such. Because of the input from local governments some of the K-12 teachers and staff make more than my wife with a PHD because University faculty cannot be unionized, yet, and they are only paid by the state.

All WI public workers have taken 3% pay cuts the last 2 years and the Universities’ staff and faculty postponed a 2% cost of living raise 4 years ago to help WI.. So they haven’t had any raises in 6-7 years, not even a cost of living raise even though they’ve had to pay more for health insurance (like the rest of the nation). At the River Falls town meeting one professor stated that she was hired 5 yrs ago and she is being paid less now than when she started. The public workers are willing to take pay cuts to help WI and, unfortunately for UWRF employees, UWRF has given back a lot of money that was offered to them for extra staff, equipment, maintenance,,,,, to help WI. The teachers have kept up the high standards of education WI is famous for even when they are being paid less and the schools are getting less money for additional workers, supplies, upkeep and everything else while they are teaching more and more students.

Making the WI employees pay more into their insurance and pension will equate to an additional pay cut of 8-12 %. And since this BRB will start in April and the 3% pay cut goes until the end of June, WI workers will be taking a pay cut of 11-15% for those 3 months. Remember that WI state workers are already making, at least, 8% less than the private sector and their peers in other states. All of this equates to taking $60 million out of the local economies. I know we wouldn’t be going out to eat anytime soon or fix up our house any more or take long trips,,,,.   Yet the WI workers are willing to take the cuts for the benefit of the state. Hopefully Walker understands how much of an impact this will have on WI. The private sector is so concerned that the WI workers are making WI go broke but because of the pay cuts and concessions from the public workers, the private sector will lose 10,000 jobs in just 4 months. The WI workers wouldn’t be spending as much as they did before. The ~10% pay cut WE are taking is basically their discretionary income. And the middle to lower class usually spends most of their money just to live. I still don’t understand how taking 60 million dollars out of the economy will help businesses, especially the “Mom & Pop” stores that Walker is so concerned about.

Then again he will probably blame the public workers and cut their pay even more. I hope Walker can make 10K jobs every 4 months, if so Great, maybe I can find a decent job.

A state Representative (R) said on a radio show/debate that he did not think that 300,000 workers instantly losing 10 % of their pay would have any consequences on the economy. I don’t know what logic he was using but his statement did not make sense to me. This politician also said it would take decades for any changes to occur in union contracts, and blames the unions for all the problems. He does not remember or understand that the politicians are the ones that negotiated these contracts with the unions so they are as much to blame as the unions for any problems the contracts have caused and the problems could be worked out during the next contract talks. The unions are willing to talk but Walker does not want to talk, just dictate.

Walker is threatening to cut 1,500 – 7,000 worker if this stalemate continues. I wonder how many jobs he will cut if he gets his way to eliminate collective bargaining and make drastic cuts to the WI workforce because there will be no way to stop him?

Like I said before, the MAIN REASON for the protest in Madison is because Walker and other Republicans want to end all collective bargaining except for salaries and those are limited to the consumer price index (cost of living). So basically the WI workers will never be equal with the private sector, and the professors will never be paid what other states pay their faculty. The university faculty have been fighting since 1971 to have a union. Until last year it was illegal for university faculty to unionize. They were finally given the OK last year but they haven’t officially started the union yet, but over 70% of the them voted for a union. The BRB would end that. The unions give the workers a voice in what happens to them. This is Extremely Important because a Republican Representative is proposing cutting state workers salaries by an additional 40%. If this bill passes Walker could do this and nobody could stop him. That would put a lot of workers under the poverty line and most right at it

Walker keeps saying that the state workers will still have work place rights and one cannot be fired except for ‘just cause’.    But instead of having a neutral arbitrator, which the unions insist upon, WI will have a government appointed appeals board which is less likely to rule in favor of the workers. Especially if they are picked/appointed by Walker. WI workers fear, and rightfully so, that senior workers will be fired because they cost too much and money can be saved with younger, less experienced, workers.      Some of the older workers have already given their notice, that they are retiring, because they fear being fired and that Walker will get rid of their pensions all together.   That’s the problem with someone you don’t trust.   You’re never sure what they are going to do, especially if there is no one to stop them from doing whatever they want to do.

Some people are comparing what Walker is doing, pushing the bill through with out any discussion, to what Obama did with his health care package. But there are some major differences. Everybody knew that Obama was going to propose a health reform bill long before it was officially brought to the committee and to the floor. Walker ran his campaign on creating jobs, having WE pay more for health care and pensions but he never said anything about demolishing CB, so this wasn’t even on most people’s radar. Also Obama was not threatening to lay people off if he didn’t get his way. Walker said “WI government employees are among some of the most honest, hard working, dedicated, professional workers in this state. Wisconsin’s state employees are second to none in our nation. Our citizens expect great service, and you have delivered (while having ever decreasing resources and revenues). I know you will continue to deliver top-notch programs for Wisconsin’s taxpayers . Thank you again for your service to our state”. Yet he is more than willing to lay off WE in order to have this bill be passed. He’s holding WI and the budget hostage. Like a playground bully that says you play by my rules or you’re off the playground, no discussion, period. When does being stubborn become being a bully?

Walker never asked the unions what they can do to help the ‘budget crisis’. I don’t know why he didn’t, the unions have been quite willing to make concessions in the past. The previous governor had a $6 billion deficit and managed to balance the budget without such drastic measures. Maybe he did it by not funding everything and not giving tax breaks to large companies and billionaires that don’t create jobs and/or that out source their work. Again, I don’t see how taking $60 mill out of the economy will create any jobs or help the economy (will actually cost 10k jobs) .

Walker did hold a public discussion but he let his backers know about it in the morning the day before but it wasn’t made public until late the night before so people opposing it would not be able to get there and/or organize any opposition. That is one reason the Democrats left the state, so people would have time to look it over, understand the ramifications and state their opinions. Walker proposed the bill and wanted it voted on and passed immediately, which, unfortunately, is not that uncommon in politics.

I told my wife if she finds a better paying job to go ahead and take it if she wants to, especially if its south of here. But she is up for promotion to Full Professor and the College of Arts and Science and the Dean have passed on her application/name to the next level with a very awesome letter of recommendation. There are 2 more stages to go. Promotion will lead to a 3-4% raise, maybe, that is before the government takes out their share. If she left she would have to start all over at the bottom of the pay scale and seniority with out her being tenured . Hopefully the governor doesn’t stop all promotions, which he could do if this bill is passed.    Workers/teachers with less to lose will and are looking for work other places.

Another thing Walker wants to do and has already started the process (at UW Madison) is to privatize all of the State Universities. That would make it so only the rich could go to college and would lead to the closing of a lot of the smaller universities, like River Falls, because they don’t have enough research grant money. UWRF is one of the poorest universities in the UW system because they gave money back to help WI. UWRF has been fiscally responsible above and beyond the call of duty. UWRF is ranked in the top 10 of small universities in the nation for its ability to give students a high quality of education at a low cost to both the students and to the state. I have taken courses at 5 different public colleges, and would not have been able to afford private college. I would hate to see other people not be able to get a college education. Again, that would lead to less pay for them, less taxes for the government and maybe even more importantly, less of an ability for the US to stay as competitive as we are and especially become even more competitive in the world economy. WI is proud that so many of its students are the first generation of their families to be able to attend college. Unfortunately a lot of students are second guessing their choice to become a teacher because of this bill and this governor. There will most likely be a brain drain in WI schools and universities because some teachers/professors, especially the young ones (that are energized with new ideas) are already looking for work in other states. China is increasing their education budget by 3-4 % per year and we’re cutting ours. Yup, that’s the way to stay competitive.

As of right now the university staff (secretaries, janitors, food preparers, maintenance workers) are in a union but if this bill passes they will no longer be allowed to even be in a union. Of course the professors’ union would never happen.

I got a phone call from the “League of WI Voters” urging me to contact Walker and my representatives and ask them to vote for the bill. They said that the bill allows unions to negotiate for their pay and benefits, Wrong!  Benefits are permanently off the table if this bill passes. The recording also said that too many bad teachers are teaching but since the unions protect them they can never be fired. If any teacher lay offs are to occur this bill gives the principal the authority to fire the worst teachers first without any body or the unions being able to stop him. At first glance that doesn’t seem so bad but if you think about it there are 2 major problems with that. One, if the principal can fire anyone then what will stop him/her from firing someone just because they don’t like the teacher. Maybe the teacher isn’t conservative enough or too conservative or maybe the teacher questions how things are run or for whatever personal reason the . Even if you are the best teacher around you could be fired and there will be no way to stop it.  The principal can also fire an older, more experienced teacher that earns more just to save money.    Second; How does the principal know who are the worst teachers? I never saw a principal in one of my (K-12) class rooms watching how the teacher teaches. You can’t go by grades because some teachers grade harder and have more difficult test than others. If you use standardized test you get teachers thatcan teach to the test and you get students that can memorize but not think on their own or problem solve. Each class is different with different challenges. Granted, I’m sure there are some (bad) teachers that could do (much) better and the school districts and unions should be helping teachers be their best. Or help them find a better place more suited for their skills. Giving a principal power to fire at will without anyone questioning or being able to stop them makes them too much like a dictator.

And the bill also gives the Governor the right to sell off any WI property (the utilities) to anybody he wishes in a NO BID process. So WI wouldn’t get the best deal, the most money for the state. And since there is no provision stating how much the utilities can charge there will basically be a monopoly (probably Koch) that can charge as much as they want. The rich will get richer and the poor/middle class will get poorer. If Walker does sell off the utilities or out source any programs/operations it would be great if those deals came with the provision that the company be in WI and that the company hire, at least some of, the workers being layed off.

Walker is telling the Democrats to come back and they’ll discuss this bill but he has also stated on the national news that these things are not negotiable. So why would the Democrats come back. I have voted for Republicans in the past and I’m a card-carrying member of the NRA but I applaud the Democrats for listening to and representing their constituents. They are doing what they can for their citizens. People, mainly Republicans, have told the Democrats to “Do their Job”. But they are doing their job, looking out for the good of the state and its citizens. The Republican senators and representatives wouldn’t even meet with their constituents. You know, if Democrats would be gun rights friendly Walker would not be in office. There are a lot of hunters and gun owners up here that listened to the NRA and voted for him because he is pro-gun rights. It may not have been the main reason but I’m certain it was a tipping point for a lot of the voters.

Yes, the public workers made the choice to work for the greater good of the state but they shouldn’t be further penalized for serving the public especially when they did it with the promise of collective bargaining rights and having unions looking out for their interest. Public workers are determined to keep the protest peaceful and civil because they know any violence or even any vile words will reflect very poorly on the public workers and hurt their cause so please don’t believe the Tea Party protester that said the unions are going to bring thugs in from Chicago to cause trouble/beat up the pro-bill protestors. The Tea Party guy was trying to paint the protestors as the villains when they are the just standing up for their rights (according to the current law). Even Walker talked about bringing in people to stir things up (in the recorded phone call) but decided not to do it because if people found out he was behind it, it could hurt him politically. Not because it is the wrong thing to do or that WI citizens would get hurt. The Madison Police Chief has asked Walker to explain the remarks and the Mayor of Madison has voiced his displeasure with Walker for even considering bringing violence to his city. Yeah.

More education (usually) leads to a higher paying job which leads to people spending more and paying more in taxes. A win for the state anyway you look at it. . What does collective bargaining do for education? It gives the teachers the ability to speak their mind and be heard by the school administration and to even bypass them and take their concerns up to the state politicians if necessary without any danger of being dismissed for doing so. It helps the teachers be better teachers and feel more valued. WI used to be first or second of all of the states in terms of A.C.T. scores. The test all high school students have to take. Now they are 3rd or 4th. So in the top 4. The states without collective bargaining rank 44, 46,47,48, 49 and 50th in terms of their ACT scores. Maybe because the teacher’s voices aren’t heard and/or acknowledged, so they don’t feel valued and there is most likely less money going to the schools. Walker also proposes to cut the funding for K-12 schools by $1 billion. The students are the ones that suffer and eventually the state and nation suffer.

China is increasing their spending on education 3-4% every year. Yet WI is decreasing theirs by 10-15% or more. How can we, the USA, expect to compete in a global market when our leaders are continually short changing our students? This is not to say that money could not be spent more wisely in some places. Maybe cuts to streamline the administration and the bureaucracy? There is only so far the schools can go to become more efficient. That quest for efficiency is one reason my wife has to put in so many hours. She has to do the work of several people. WI has already cut the education budget by over $250 mill in the pass 8 yrs and that does not include the 3% pay cuts and the permanent rescission of the cost of living raises and the proposed 8-11% cuts to come. It definitely gives the impression that teaches and other WI public workers are not valued.

Of course this may all be a moot point. Even though Walker has said all along that the removal of collective bargaining rights is important for WI to balance the budget, he is proposing to make a new bill with only the elimination of collective bargaining in it and then he will agree with protestors that it’s not a budget issue so only a simple majority is needed to pass it. They can pass it without the Democrats being there. WI citizens have to wait one year to recall the governor and that would cost a huge amount of money to do, both to the candidates and the state. But some petitions have started for recalling some of the state senators and representatives that would not talk to their constituents. This will also cost lots of money to everyone. Some Republicans said (privately) that they are willing to compromise but not the governor. If this is what the Tea Party stands for I believe the US is in big trouble. Even some of the Republicans have issues with Walker and the Tea Party.

BTW: To cover the cost of the BRB (136.7mill) every citizen of WI would have to pay a one time fee of $ 24/person. For the proposed 3.6 bill 2yr budget it would cost every citizen an extra $26/month. That’s it. Yet Walker wants people who make 8 % (some 20 %) less than their peers to pay an additional $300-500 per month, forever, so he can give tax breaks to billionaires and wealthy industries. I’m waiting to see all these jobs that are created but I’m not holding my breathe.

Keep in mind that this is not only about teachers, professors and schools but every WI worker will be affected.   And really it will affect all of WI.  Walker did not include Firemen and State Highway Patrol and a few other emergency workers in the elimination of their collective bargaining rights but those emergency workers were protesting right along side the other WI workers and concerned citizens because they realize that this is an assault on workers rights everywhere.

This is all about having complete and absolute power over everyone. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, right?

Maybe this wouldn’t be happening if health care costs were lower. A discussion for another day.

Please keep this info in mind and remember; if it passes here, it will be coming to a place near you, for public workers and eventually for the private sector. Walker admires Reagan for breaking the Air Traffic Controllers which made him look strong to the world. Walker wants to end collective bargaining so he can look tough and unyielding and eventually make a run for the Presidency. That’s scary, very scary.

Jude K.

Editor’s note:  The views expressed in Letters to the Editor are the views solely of the person or persons submitting the letter and not the views of PNC.

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