It's Not About the Money - And People Get That

February 26, 2011 -- Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel

There was much hype in advance of the competing rallies in Madison today. As it happened, 70,000 people turned out - as they have day after day - to oppose the collective bargaining ban, while only about 3,000 tea party supports turned up.

Many of the tea partiers carried signs saying "Pay Your Fair Share," with the implication that public employees don't want to help fix our so-called budget woes.

It's been gratifying to see that people get the real issues here.

We are locked in the middle of a showdown that pits a broad progressive movement against corporate power. That's what this fight is really about, and not about any effort to balance the budget.

So many elements of this political situation are noteworthy. Now in month 19 of a biennial budget that was balanced when it passed in 2009, we face a $137 million shortfall only because Governor Walker successfully rammed through the legislature a $150 tax breaks for corporations only days after being inaugurated in January. Legally, the legislature has until June to pass a budget repair bill, and the strategies they use to fill that hole can be myriad and creative. For example, they could reinstate some amount of the corporate taxes that created the hole in the first place.

Instead, the governor incorporated into the budget repair plan what amounts to a 12% pay cut for most public sector workers in the form of increased personal contributions to health and pension funds as well as outright salary reductions. And as if that wasn't bad enough, he proposed to effectively eliminate collective bargaining for public workers.

It's difficult to overstate the impact this proposed change would have. Public sector unions would retain the right to bargain only over wages, and even wage increases could not exceed increases in the consumer price index. Union workers would lose the right not only to have a voice in how budget shortfalls - and windfalls - would be handled, but they would lose the ability to bargain over working conditions, hours, safety and a whole host of issues that have often occupied much more time at the bargaining table the monetary matters.

Under Walker's proposal, this change in status for public sector unions would not be limited to state workers. Almost every public employee, regardless of the unit of government they work for, would effectively be denied representation.

Though marketed as a necessary solution to our budget woes, the collective bargaining proposal has little effect on the budget. It would hit hardest - and with the least budget impact - some of the poorest workers in our state, including childcare and home care workers. It would remove collective bargaining rights from nurses and health care workers at the UW Hospital, with no budgetary impact.

It's not about the money!