Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009

Another Letter to My Representative

Dear Representative:

Thank you for meeting with my husband when our family was at the Capitol on Friday.  I apologize for not joining in on the discussion you had with my husband.  As I am sure you can understand, as a homeschooling mom and stay-at-home parent if my children don’t come with me I don’t go anywhere and it’s certainly much easier to have the kind of discussions that need to take place without the exuberant energy of young children.

I fully appreciate the difficulties that are facing our state.  Our long term obligations are certainly concerning, but even you will have to admit that Governor Walker’s Budget “Repair” Bill certainly won’t address the enormity of our problems.  Decades of mismanagement by *both* Republicans and Democrats who have all too willingly cut taxes without cutting spending is what has brought us here.  Booming economies fueled first by the tech bubble and then by the housing bubble meant previous generations have been able to push the costs further and further down the road.  On this issue I’m sure we agree.

What does this have to do with collective bargaining?  Governor Walker indicates that we can no longer “afford” collective bargaining.  When talking about our budget deficits he implies that collective bargaining is to blame.  Public employees are the “haves” and the taxpayers are the “have nots” is how I believe he has put it.  First off, I’m a taxpayer.  Secondly, we’re not sitting idly by while my husband collects his check from the County.

My husband is our sole wage earner for our family of five.  His paychecks often include the many hours of overtime he puts in a week.  When the County calls, he answers.  We’ve gotten used to changing our plans at the last minute when he’s called in to work.  Weekends?  There were periods of time last year when my husband worked right through his weekend – the weeks running one into the other like an endless string.  Our vacation last year?  Cancelled for a committee meeting.  Holidays?  He works just about every single one of them.  It’s not uncommon for him to work 50, 60, 70 hours a week.  Contrary to the beliefs of some, he’s working every single moment he’s at work.  No one is sitting idly by while the time-clock spins.  The money he earns goes to our bills – our mortgage, our real estate taxes, heat for the house, food for our children who I fear will one day eat us out of house and home, clothing for our children, educational materials and curriculum for our homsechooling.  By the time we pay our bills, we’re lucky to put away $50 a pay period in our savings account.  We’re not living high on the hog by any stretch of the imagination.

Some have claimed, including one of your staff members, that we need to eliminate collective bargaining because there are employees who take advantage of the system.  The idea here seems to be that without unions and collective bargaining there will no longer be anyone taking advantage of the system.  To borrow a phrase from my fellow homeschoolers, “tough cases make bad law.”  In other words, a particularly unpleasant case is a poor basis for a law which will cover a wider range of less extreme cases. Are opponents of collective bargaining in this instance really prepared to make the case that the vast majority of public employees game the system?  I have news for them, there are people every day in non-union jobs that game their employer.  There are numerous private, non-union employees that are lazy at work and contrary to popular opinion, they often continue working there while everyone else picks up the slack.  I know because I’ve worked with people like this before my son was born.

When my husband met with you, you equated civil service protections with collective bargaining.  In fact, even Governor Walker has insisted that collective bargaining remains largely intact through these same provisions. Politifact considered this claim recently and not only declared it false, but I believe the phrase they used was “pants on fire.”  Civil service protections, while better than nothing, are not the same as collective bargaining.  If they were, collective bargaining wouldn’t have been in the law.

As for unions being able to bargain and ask for raises above the CPI via referendum when the economy recovers as you suggested when you met with my husband, does anyone ever really believe this will happen?  A quick perusal of the comments made in support of Governor Walker’s bill speaks volumes about what a lot of people think about public employees.  Do we really think this is going to magically change once the economy recovers?  Everyone wants government services.  We want our streets plowed, our children educated, our garbage picked up, and our safety protected….but no one wants to pay for it.  Regardless of what the economy is doing, everyone in this country seems to think we pay too much in taxes when in reality we pay a paltry sum compared to most industrialized countries with poor outcomes to match (try googling things like worldwide infant mortality rates for starters).  What’s going to make things going forward any different?  Collective bargaining all these years helped to ensure that our public employees were treated with respect.  Do we really want to eliminate what helped to keep them from being used more than what they already are as pawns in political games?

Ultimately, though, as my husband told you and as numerous of our fellow union members have emphasized, this isn’t about the money.  I believe you asked my husband something along the lines of “What has your union done for you?”  Unfortunately, Representative, you’re asking the wrong question.  It’s not about what the union can do for us as if the union is some sort of third-party outsider hell-bent on getting in the middle of things.  My husband and his fellow co-workers are the union.  Each and every union member has an equal voice in the matter.  They each have a vote on matters that effect them.  They vote on union dues.  They vote on which organization they want to pay to help represent them.  Do we want to stick with AFSCME or should we go with someone else?  It’s up to the union members to decide.  When the County wants to interview one of their union members for possible discipline, they have a right to their choice of representation and do not need to go it alone.  When retired union members have a hard time paying for their health insurance, current union members can donate their vacation and comp time to help them out.  Not enough paid time off for FMLA leave?  Your fellow union members, again, can donate to help you out.

It would be prudent here to consider the Milwaukee County Court Security Guards.  Last year, after the County Board had rejected the plan to outsource the security, then County Executive Scott Walker “unilaterally ordered it last March, saying the county faced a potential 2010 year-end deficit of about $7 million.”  The unionized court security guards took the matter to arbitration and won.  In the words of the arbitrator, “The county did not have a true budget crisis at the time and county officials failed to give the union representing the security guards an opportunity to make some alternative cost-saving proposals before laying them off, according to the decision from arbitrator Amedeo Greco.”  He went further and said that the county had to “immediately [hire] back the laid-off county workers with back pay, with any unemployment compensation or wages from a new job subtracted. It also called for a guarantee of at least 180 days of work – the amount of time that Greco said should have been given to the security guards’ union to react to Walker’s privatization plan.”

You also mentioned to my husband that Governor Walker asked for concessions before proposing this bill.  As far as I am aware, there have been no efforts by Governor Walker to bring the unions to the bargaining table.  The only time I am ever aware that he asked for concessions is when the Governor-elect appeared at the Milwaukee Press Club and threatened to decertify public unions or change the law while asking for general but not specifically outlined concessions.  If this is what you were referring to, I have to be honest, I don’t consider it an attempt at good faith bargaining.

Much like the Milwaukee County Court Security Guards, Wisconsin’s public employees deserve the opportunity to “make some alternative cost-saving proposals” before unilaterally eliminating collective bargaining rights.  They deserve to be treated like equal adults with a right to have a voice at the table.  Attempts at good faith bargaining need to be made.  You were quoted as saying, “Could this whole thing have been handled differently? Sure. But the bill is the bill, whether we received it a week ago or a day before we vote on it.”  The very fact that you admit that this should have been handled differently is reason enough to vote no.

Finally, the provisions in this bill addressing collective bargaining and changes to the way the state administers Medicaid deserve to have weeks of careful debate, not a few days.  These are sweeping, radical changes, whether Governor Walker wants to admit it or not, and deserve more time than one public hearing can afford.  The Governor hasn’t made his case for the speed of this bill, the purported “emergency,” nor have you sufficiently justified your comments regarding the connection between the budget deficits we face and collective bargaining.  In this matter, I agree with Joseph A. McCartin at “The National Review” when he wrote:

Contrary to Walker’s assertion, there is no direct correlation between public-sector collective bargaining and yawning state budget deficits. According to data gathered by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, while Wisconsin projects a state budget deficit of 12.8 percent for FY 2012, North Carolina, which does not allow government workers to bargain, faces a significantly higher deficit: 20 percent. Ohio, whose Republican governor John Kasich has also made clear his desire to roll back collective bargaining, has a deficit that is only about half the size of non-union North Carolina’s. Clearly, then, state budget deficits we are now witnessing are not the product of collective bargaining, but rather reflect the differential impact of the current recession on individual states, as well as the integrity of state fiscal practices (such as whether they raise enough in taxes to pay for the essential services they provide).

You have a duty to represent your constituents.  You’ve been elected to represent our best interests, not the best interests of the Republican party.  I hope you’ll remember this in the days to come.  I mean this as respectfully as possible, but my husband and I are registered to vote, we read extensively on the issues at hand from as many perspectives as possible and we vote…every time.  We will remember come time for re-election and will be active in encouraging folks to vote for the candidate that will represent the interests of our district.  It is my hope that will be you come November 2012.

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