I've been listening to a number of people who have been expressing seom wildly wrong-headed opinions about the protests in Madison. As the man says, You're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts. Here's my attempt to correct some of my fellow citizens.
1. There’s a budget crisis in Wisconsin.
Like virtually every other state in the country, Wisconsin faces significant budget challenges, most of which will disappear as the economy improves. You see, the main culprit in Wisconsin’s economic woes has been the loss of employment. This has caused people to stop paying income taxes (because they have no income) and to rely heavily upon the state-funded healthcare plan. As the economy recovers, tax revenues will return and public health costs will decline.
2. Wisconsin state workers are paid too much.
If you compare the salaries and benefits of public employees covered by the collective bargaining agreements in question with their counterparts in the private sector, you’ll see that Wisconsin public employees are actually paid slightly less. Their cash compensation is significantly less, but that is nearly counterbalanced by the values of their benefits. Nearly, but not quite. Most state workers could do better by working in the private sector.
3. Wisconsin state workers don’t pay for their pensions.
Not true. The collective bargaining agreement calls for the state to pay the equivalent of 5% of a state worker’s salary into a pension fund, which is professionally managed on behalf of the workers. What the state pays into the plan is part of the employees’ compensation that would be otherwise paid to the employee. This is the workers’ own money, just as what you contribute to your 401(k) is your own money. It’s not some “gift” from the taxpayers – it’s taxable income.
4. Wisconsin state workers need to step up during this crisis.
Representatives of the state employees’ unions have, in fact, offered to make all the concessions asked for in the budget repair bill. Every fiscal request being made by the Walker Administration has been agreed to by the unions. To whatever extent there is a fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, the unions have proven themselves willing to bear their share of the load.
5. I don’t have a pension plan at my job, so why should they get one?
This is a morally troubling argument. If my house burns down, should I go next door and torch my neighbor’s house because, darn it, if I have to suffer then everybody should have to suffer? Taking away the pension from a seventh grade math teacher isn’t going to make your retirement any more secure. The better question really ought to be, if those people over there can have a pension, why can’t I have one?
6. Hey, I’m paying their salaries!
Yes, you are. And every time you buy a loaf of bread at the local supermarket, you’re paying the salaries of every employee in the store. Every time you fill up at the gas station, you’re paying all the salaries at the oil company. This is how capitalism works. Everybody is always paying everybody else’s salary. That doesn’t give you the right to demand that the produce manager take a pay cut to keep the price of cabbage low, or the guy behind the counter at the gas station doesn’t deserve a health plan.
7. The Democratic Senators ought to come back to Wisconsin to do their job.
The state senators who fled to Illinois to prevent a quorum are taking the only action they can take to prevent what they feel is a patently unfair and unwise bill from becoming a patently unfair and unwise law. If the Walker Administration showed any indication that it would negotiate in good faith to reach a compromise, the senators would return. But as last weeks “punking” of Governor Walker demonstrated, the administration has no intention of working with the Democrats and would resort to lies and chicanery if given the opportunity.
8. The protestors at the Capitol Building are union thugs.
Given the massive groups that have assembled at the Capitol Building (100,000 last Saturday alone) the complete lack of anything remotely resembling a disturbance reflects well upon the citizens of the State of Wisconsin. Even on the day when a Pro-Walker counter-protest occurred side-by-side with the Pro-Union protest, the Madison Police Department reported no incidents. Those who are protesting are teachers, students, government workers, and in a profound display of union solidarity, fire fighters and police officers. Hardly the makings of an ugly mob.
9. The mob is full of out-of-state agitators.
This is virtually impossible to prove or disprove, but unless busloads of people from Illinois are stopping at the border and buying Badger and Packer sweatshirts and stocking hats, the crowd at the Capitol Building appears to be almost completely home-grown. The same cannot be said for the Koch Brothers, the multi-billionaires who stand to make a(nother) fortune if the budget repair bill passes. From Utah, the Koch brothers have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Wisconsin politics – from direct contributions to the Walker Campaign to their funding of shadowy “advocacy” groups that ran attack ads almost non-stop during the last election season. If you’re worried about out-of-state influences on our politics, look over there.
10. This is not a big deal.
What happens in Wisconsin is going to have a large impact on what happens in Ohio, then in Indiana, then in Michigan, and then in Florida. Once politicians and their ultra-wealthy owners crush public-sector unions, the task of crushing private-sector unions becomes just that much easier. And when unions have been destroyed, every worker in America will be reduced to taking whatever job at whatever lousy pay and with whatever lousy benefits (like none) that corporations decide we deserve. If the past few years have shown us anything at all, from Enron to Lehman Brothers to British Petroleum, it’s that large corporations are simply cannot be trusted, and there needs to be some force in our public lives that counter-balance their power and influence. With governments at every level being bought and sold by plutocrats of all sorts, labor unions have never been quite so vital to the survival of the Middle Class.
Thanks for reading!