Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has just initiated action that will result in the near total demise of public employee unions in Wisconsin, and thus far the unions are going right along with the program.
Walker presented a budget repair bill that, in short, removes from collective bargaining everything except base wage levels and requires unionized employees to begin contributing to their health insurance and pension benefits, and allows individuals to fully opt out of the union (including any payments to the union). Note I said “contributing”, not “bear the full costs of” benefits, and at a rate far less than comparable private sector employees.
The reaction of the unions, as evidenced by the protests in Madison, has been exactly what I would imagine Walker fully expected. This reactions is serving to only strengthen Walker’s position. The situation has many similarities to the 1981 air traffic controllers strike that President Reagan leveraged into the total destruction of that union as a viable force, and I have little doubts that the results in WI will be any different. In fact, it may eclipse 1981 in terms of long term impacts.
Walker’s requests are neither excessive or punitive. In the midst of a recession, WI government employees have been insulated from the realities of the economy, have not experienced major layoffs or major reductions is compensation, and have experienced little fear of facing those realities in the near future.
The only pain they have felt so far is a series of furlough days, which amounted largely to a small pay reduction and a lot of 3 day weekends in the summer time. Most employees probably covered these days with vacation time in any case.
Walker is asking union employees to do what almost every other American worker does already. Fund, in part, their benefits and bear some of the costs of retirement packages. For this, he is being labeled as a “slave owner” by union leaders and Democrats, and compared to Egypt’s Mubarak and worse yet Hitler by union workers.
The disproportional reaction of the unions will do what Walker cannot. It will result in the near total loss of their popular support. As the public watches the unions and their members conduct a temper tantrum, they will rapidly lose any remaining sympathy for them.
Should the unions go further than heated rhetoric and actually engage in job actions such as walk outs and strikes, or worse yet lash out at Walker or others supportive of these changes, they will guarantee their own total destruction. I personally doubt that the unions will refrain from extreme actions such as this, as it is not in their nature. They are now working from a place of anger and fear, which we all know leads to rash, poor and self destructive decisions.
When the inevitable acts occur, Walker will be free to use whatever tools he has, including full de-cerification of all the unions themselves, in response. The public would in this case fully support Governor Walker as they did President Reagan, seeing the unions as unreasonable and dangerous.
Walker’s strategy has been brilliant, and well thought out. He has made what the general public considers to be reasonable requests, and in so doing gave the unions just enough rope to hang themselves. The unions thus far seem only too willing to play along, believing that the public will back them. They are as misguided as they are short sighted.
Chris Christie has been lauded for his actions in NJ to control the growth of government and power of the unions, but Walker has done him one better. He has essentially engineered things in such a way that the unions will make themselves irrelevant and powerless.
What this means in the long term in WI is even more important. While the reduction in the power of public sector unions does go along way to controlling the growth of government, it also all but eliminates the most essential source of funding for the Democrat Party in WI.
In 2011, there will be redistricting in WI, which will be fully controlled by the GOP. This is already bad news for the Democrats, but now with the reality that the enrollment of the unions will likely be much less, and the money they have access to will be severely restricted, those same Democrats will not be able to rely upon union funds to run expensive campaigns. This is a recipe for electoral disaster for a generation or more. Facing tougher election fights in more competitive districts, they will do so with significantly reduced funding and support networks.
WI will then likely be a red state for many years as a result, and the unions will have only themselves to blame. They just could not resist the urge to act like petulant children and they will guarantee not only their destruction but the destruction of their political supporters and power networks.
Game, set, match.