Monday, February 21, 2011

Wisconsin – an Improbable Battleground?

The country has moved, in this 24-7 news cycle, from the exhilaration shown in the streets of Cairo, to the protests in Madison, Wisconsin. These demonstrations for workers rights are being held by members of unionized public employees groups. As one who grew up in a blue-collar union family, I am sympathetic to the rights of workers. Most understand how important it is to have safe workplaces, reasonable breaks and hours of duty. The public also knows that union workers should have rights about due process, health care benefits, collective bargaining, equal pay and expect some savings for pensions. These are all part of a negotiating process.

The average Social Security payment in Wisconsin, (and the United States), for a retiree is about $1,100 per month or slightly more than $12,000 a year. Average pension payments are generally under $20,000 a year for state employees, including those who were required to pay into the system. States have traditionally used employee pensions as a float to underfund state budgets. As an example, Maryland's pension system is currently very much underfunded, which is one reason the Governor wanted to return the burden to the counties. Required contributions have been set aside for several years in order to balance the budget in tough times.

The Tea Party members who support Governor Walker in Wisconsin are railing against "unions feeding and getting fat at the public trough," but a look at the facts proves this to be untrue. They claim the workers are taking money unfairly and getting plush retirements. General Motors won concessions from workers regarding promised benefits in it's reorganization. But should life always offer a "re-do"? When do promised earnings become a maybe? Don't these public employees work for their living and not rely on tax breaks or favoritism? The average worker, union or not, in this country has less than $50,000 saved for retirement outside of a pension system. Many planned on ever increasing home values to carry them through their retirement years. We now know how deeply the recession and falling home prices have impacted this dream. Workers who retire at 65 many live 20-30 more years. This is why this battle is so intense. Workers are fighting for the right to live into retirement with the expectation of the middle class quality of life which they have earned.

The women who teach our children -- and teachers are still primarily women -- earn an average of under $50,000 a year after ten years in their jobs. Many in Wisconsin have said they will agree to pay more toward their benefits and even retirement which will further reduce their take-home pay, but they must retain their collective bargaining rights. The union movement is indeed under assault. Many states, especially across the south, have laws against union shops and collective bargaining. Are we moving toward destruction of the middle class worker and creating a nation of haves and have-nots? Surely the legions of union members who were the so-called Reagan Democrats must be regretting their decisions. Much of this anti-union effort was begun when Reagan destroyed the Air Traffic Controllers group and fired all who were striking for better conditions.

The Democratic State Senators who have abandoned their legislative posts had the right idea. Leave the state until the Governor will agree to negotiate. This is the only way to force him to listen to both sides and be a governor for all of the people in his state. If the Governor is only trying to balance his budget, why did he give huge tax concessions to businesses as one of his first acts once elected? If he and his fellow Republican Governors in Ohio and New Jersey are truly not interested in union busting, then why are they posturing rather than coming to the bargaining table? Are they not furthering the message of Citizens United in trying to destroy the Democratic union sources of funding? Just as the right wing went after trial lawyers who supported Democrats -- think of the spurious efforts for "tort reform" -- they are now targeting the union members and their PACs. Union membership has been decreasing, especially in the last two decades, but they still have political clout. Diminishing power and membership will decrease their treasuries and ability to advocate. In 2010 the Public Service unions were the only entities with enough funding to combat the funding sources controlled by Karl Rove, which are mostly outside public scrutiny.

It is unknown whether foreign interests or right wing nuts gave him his hundreds of millions which were used to spread half truths and outright lies in many cases. This contributed greatly to the Democratic defeats. NDC Chair (and friend of the President), Tim Kain, mounted few effective defenses against this full court press from the right.

Democrats should seriously heed this threat and be ready to combat it now and in through the 2012 campaign.

President Obama has moved cautiously in support of the Wisconsin workers. What would you have him do? Let's hear your views on this topic.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are reviewed prior to posting.