The Facts on Wisconsin: What the Unions Want, and Why It's Insane

Wisconsin has had enough, and there is a political revolution underway. Last November, voters stormed the Capitol in Madison with their votes. They are now in the process of fighting back and reclaiming their state from liberal politicians, greedy public employee unions, and a morbidly obese state government.

With the election of Governor Scott Walker, the GOP retaking of the Wisconsin Senate, and an overwhelming Republican majority in the Assembly, Wisconsin is poised to slash spending and undertake the heavy lifting of eliminating the state's projected budget deficit of nearly $3.3 billion over the next two years. It will take both courage and common sense -- but common sense is something this country was founded on.

In January of 1776, journalist and essayist Thomas Paine published the most influential tract of the American Revolution, a political pamphlet titled Common Sense:

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil, in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer!

Wisconsin residents must remember Thomas Paine's words as they face the hard choices necessary to return Wisconsin to fiscal sanity, or they will go the way of California, New Jersey, Illinois, and Michigan. Who would have thought we'd ever hear serious political discourse about the possibility of U.S. states actually filing for bankruptcy? We are now, courtesy of liberal tax-and-spend policies, lavish public employee pensions and benefits, and the same sort of Madison fuzzy math used by our former governor to saddle us with soaring deficits.

Wisconsin residents realize what an historic opportunity they have. Even with the landslide conservative victories last November, Wisconsin was the only state in the country where Democrats lost the governorship, a Senate seat, and an entire legislature. The message from Wisconsin voters was clear -- restore common sense to government: don’t spend more than you make; smaller government is better government; people and businesses create jobs, not government. The return to fiscal sanity in Wisconsin is no more complicated than that. While the MSM is painting the standoff in Madison as the end of collective bargaining and the union equivalent of Custer's Last Stand, the truth is far less dramatic.

Wisconsin and the nation have watched as schools across Wisconsin closed due to teachers participating in a "sick out"; unions bused in people from other states to inflate their mob numbers; and Democrat legislators literally ran away to neighboring states to avoid the vote on Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill. Understanding the events unfolding is important.

Two areas of state law -- one for state workers (Chapter 111 of the Wisconsin Statutes) and one for local government and public school employees (Section 111.70 of the Wisconsin Statutes) -- give public employees the ability in Wisconsin to collectively bargain. The law issues a mandate to both the employer (the government, through its taxpayers) and the collective bargaining group (employees represented by a union). The two sides must "meet and confer at reasonable times, in good faith, with the intention of reaching an agreement" on wages, hours, fringe benefits, and conditions of employment. In other words, public employees, unlike the rest of the planet, are given extraordinary leverage to determine what they are paid or given in those areas. They do not have such a say under civil service rules.

Civil service protections are put into state law by the legislature, or put into a local ordinance by a city council, or village or town board. Currently, state employees are covered by civil service, but most local government employees are not, and no public school employees are. Civil service protections set forth extraordinary public employee benefits such as vacation and overtime, prohibiting termination for reasons other than just cause, and creating procedures for employees to file grievances and to have those complaints heard. In and of themselves they constitute protections and benefits real-world employees do not have. However, civil service laws do not provide a right for employees to bargain with their employers over those issues and others. The terms are set by the employer.

Walker’s budget repair bill, along with an amendment approved by the Joint Finance Committee, would require local governments that don’t have a civil service system to establish one, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. As an option, local governments could establish a grievance process that would address employee discipline, workplace safety, and employee terminations. This is still more than most real-world private sector employees have. The only choices regular people have are to accept what is being offered or go to work somewhere else offering something better.

While collective bargaining rights after Walker's bill passes would remain intact for the State Patrol and local police and fire department employees, because they are exempt from such changes, the rest of state, local government, and public school employees would have their collective bargaining ability limited to the rate of base pay. And it's about time.