Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wisconsin Governor Underfire for Reform

Story first appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

Wisconsin's recall election is on, pitting the Governor against the Milwaukee Mayor. If the governor is voted out of office on June 5, what other politician will be willing to step forward to address America's entitlement challenges?

The governor's record is well known: He limited collective bargaining for government labor unions and trimmed health-insurance and pension benefits, bringing them more in line with private business. Organized labor thinks these reforms should be the end of his career.

They argue, first, that public workers just wanted to "have a voice" in their employment. But public-school teachers are more than welcome to participate in school-board meetings or sit down with principals to discuss how to achieve better results. What unions really want is legal standing to sue employers and prevent any changes—in wages, hours or other conditions of employment—unwanted by their members. Their call to continue combative litigation hardly promotes the kind of statewide unity that they have called for.

Public employers deal with thousands of grievances that result in discussion, negotiation, mediation and arbitration. In 2010, the last full year before the reforms, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission issued 129 decisions in cases that went to a full hearing. That is a lot of litigation.

Unions frequently abuse their standing to sue. In 2009, during the height of the recession, many government agencies furloughed employees to save taxpayer money. In Milwaukee County, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees successfully sued to prevent this—and won $6 million in back pay and interest, at a time when every local government was drowning in red ink.

In 2006, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) sued the Cedarburg School District for terminating a teacher who had viewed pornography on his school computer. An arbitrator initially reinstated the teacher and awarded back pay. Only after much time and expense did the Wisconsin Court of Appeal uphold the termination.

In the past year, WEAC again fought the termination of a teacher who had viewed and shared pornography on his school computer in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. An arbitrator recently reinstated and awarded back pay of over $200,000 to that teacher. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the district spent over $300,000 in legal fees in its failed attempt to fire him.

In the Antigo School District, a principal has been criminally charged with selling drugs from his house to fellow teachers, among others. The district could drug-test these employees to ensure that students aren't exposed to teachers under the influence of illegal drugs, right? Sorry, drug testing is prohibited by collective bargaining and the union contract.

Why did Wisconsinites have to incur considerable costs in lost staff time and legal fees as unions sued local governments? Because, argue Democrats, the people we elect to serve on school boards and city councils can't be trusted to treat employees fairly. It matters little that these local officials can be voted out of office if they act inappropriately.

Public workers without collective-bargaining rights will hardly be subject to the whims of tyrannical bosses. There are ample protections for all employees—the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Civil Rights Act and many more.

Employees have considerably more legal protection now than when Wisconsin first gave collective-bargaining rights to public unions in 1959. All employees have standing to sue in state and federal court if their rights are violated. If government agencies go too far, voters can vote out board members. Noticeably absent from the debate thus far are examples of a school district running roughshod over teachers.

Education is easily the most important social equalizer in our society, yet there is no evidence that Wisconsin's previous levels of retirement and health-care funding for teachers improved student performance. Many factors harm student performance—including that we don't fire our worst teachers and don't reward our best, thanks to union contracts that forbid merit-based compensation and block the dismissal of teachers except in rare circumstances.

Recalling the Governor and reinstating collective-bargaining rights would guarantee a tax hike to pay astronomical health and retirement benefits to union members. Local governments would have to continue fighting in front of arbitrators to exert any semblance of control over their workforce. And big labor would be able to exert more control over politicians and dictate reform on its terms—which is virtually no reform at all.

If politicians nationwide see the Wisconsin governor as a cautionary tale, what will happen on the inevitable day when we have to tell seniors that they must contribute more toward Medicare or wait until age 68 to receive Social Security? Will the AARP run those people out of office too?

This cycle of attempted reform followed by all-out warfare could continue until we are bankrupt. Had Wisconsin Democrats and unions been willing to support more modest reforms years ago, these changes wouldn't have been needed. But most politicians are unwilling to confront their friends and constituents. That habit will continue—or get worse—if Wisconsin's expensive and divisive recall campaign boots the reform governor from office.

For more Law News, visit the Nation of Law blog.
For more national and worldwide Business News, visit the Peak News Room blog.
For more local and state of Michigan Business News, visit the Michigan Business News blog.
For more Health News, visit the Healthcare and Medical News blog.
For more Electronics News, visit the Electronics America blog.
For more Real Estate News, visit the Commercial and Residential Real Estate blog.
For more Advertising News, visit the Advertising, Marketing and Media blog.
For more Environmental News, visit the Environmental Responsibility News blog.
For information on website optimization or for the latest SEO News, visit the SEO Done Right blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment