Balancing the budget on the backs of public sector workers?

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By Juanita Bratcher 


“Is this what democracy looks like?”, a frustrated protester asked.


Democracy failed most public sector workers in Wisconsin when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the Wisconsin Senate and House stripped them of collective bargaining rights, denying them a future voice at the table through union representation.

Tens of thousands of public workers and supporters of workers and unions, many of which were non-residents but in staunch opposition to Walker’s intentions to scrap collective bargaining trekked to Wisconsin from across the spectrum in protest of his actions. They took their dismay to the state capital and to the streets. It was all about having a level playing field, an equal voice at the table, and a collective voice in solving disputes (between management and labor unions); not a one-sided scenario where management (state government) would be the sole player.

Subsequently, the Bill passed by an 18-1 vote without any Democrats present, and was subsequently signed into law by Walker. For the moment, Walker and his Republican allies had successfully scuttled collective bargaining rights for most public sector workers.

When hearing of the decision, a frustrated protester asked, “Is this what democracy looks like?” The decision quickly set the stage in mobilizing those in opposition. Those in opposition went into a new phase; efforts were soon underway to take recourse in the courts and circulate petitions for a “Recall” of Walker and other state legislators responsible for ramming the Bill through in a parliamentary maneuver, and eventually signed into law by the governor. While Walker is not subject to recall until after a year in office (January 2012, he is three months into his first term), there is rapid preparedness by opposition forces toward that goal.  

Fourteen Democrat legislators early on in the debate fled the state and found refuge in Illinois as a means to delay or block efforts to quickly ramrod the legislation through. Obviously, Republican legislators had the votes needed for passage since they are in the majority.

President Barack Obama noted that Walker’s proposal for change “seems like an assault on unions.” It certainly appears that way. And in several polls conducted on the issue, participants overwhelmingly supported bargaining rights of public employee unions.

From my perspective and analysis, it appears to be straight out union busting going on in Wisconsin and Ohio by two Republican governors with backup from the Republican House and Senate.

What Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have initiated in regards to phase out collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees hinges on the very essence of trying to balance the budget on the backs of public employees. And it appears that they will win in their battle to strip away the rights of thousands of workers and power from public-sector unions.

Obviously, it appears that these two governors’ actions (and perhaps more governors will follow in their footsteps) are to balance their budgets on the backs of public employees.

There are many state and city governments besides Wisconsin and Ohio that are faced with financial budget deficits and are finding other creative ways and means to solve their deficit problems, but it appears that Walker and Kasich found it appropriate to balance their budgets on the backs of public employees.

The measure (Bill) in Wisconsin forbids many government workers from collective bargaining with the exception of wage increases that don’t go beyond the rate of inflation. However, police and firefighters would be exempt.

Under Ohio’s Bill, public workers would be banned from striking (something that is already prohibited) and there would be established penalties for workers who participate in walkouts. However, unionized workers in Ohio would be in a position to negotiate wages, hours and certain other work conditions void of sick time, health care and pension benefits. It would also put an end to automatic pay raises, and future wage increases would be on the basis of merit. Ohio’s Bill passed and was signed into law March 30, 2011. Those in opposition of the law have 90 days to collect 230,000 signatures for recall.

Did Walker and his Republican allies go too far in trying to quench collective bargaining rights for public sector workers? What price will Walker pay one year down the road? Will his governorship be short-lived if opposition gets their way? Will his controversial actions cost him a re-election bid? It might cost him if a recall is effective. While government workers (state workers) were willing to take pay cuts and contribute more for health and pension benefits, that wasn’t enough for Walker. He had other plans. Surely, if sought, Walker could have found more creative ways and ideas to balance the budget.

Pure and simple: It appears to be an assault against working-class Americans. Workers should always have the right to union representation. For American workers or working men and women anywhere collective bargaining is a part of the American dream and elsewhere. This should be a shared effort, a negotiable effort between management and unions whether at the state or corporate level. No open and shut one-sided decision. They must sit at the table together with a collective voice in solving disputes and come up with workable solutions.

Collective bargaining is as much American as apple pie. But it seems the urge to kill-off collective bargaining rights tends to be part of a growing trend. And most working Americans, regardless of ethnicity, age or Party affiliation – Democrat or Republican – want fairness in the workplace. That’s something you can bank on! They have seen controversial happenings in the workplace regarding employees that took union intervention with management to get things back on track.

As a News Reporter/Journalist, I have penned a wide-range of articles on labor unions. I have also penned numerous articles on politics and government. I’ve been a union member at every job where I worked if there was union representation. I was the wife of a labor union executive. I am a strong supporter of collective bargaining rights. I fret to think in the least that unions not be part of the process in the scheme of things to represent working class men and women.

My late husband, Neal A. Bratcher, Sr., was the Executive Director of Council 19 (American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME, AFL-CIO), an umbrella union consisting of several local unions in Chicago, including Local 1657. He was also a Vice-President on the International Board of AFL-CIO. His efforts were overwhelming in serving and servicing his union clientele. I’m well aware of the history of unions in this country. However, I do not see management as the enemy, but prefer that management and union meet at the table and share a collective role in solving disputes that exist at the moment.

After being on a winner’s high, Walker’s Administration came to a squeaky halt in implementing the law when a Dane County Circuit Court Judge issued an order to block implementation due to a challenge to the measure’s legitimacy. There are also other lawsuits challenging the new law.

Judge Maryann Sumi had issued a ruling on the issue but Walker’s Administration continued efforts to let the law go into effect. A state office published the law online even though Sumi had issued the order. Sumi issued another ruling stating that anyone in violation would face sanctions.

At the moment, democracy now rests in the court. Let’s hope democracy prevails for public sector workers and that the level playing field remains intact for government, corporate  and unions.

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