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Posted at 10:54 AM ET, 03/10/2011

Will Democrats overturn Walker if they get power back in Wisconsin?

By Ezra Klein

I think there’s at least an outside chance that Josh Barro is right that the next time Democrats control both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature and hold the governorship, they won’t actually restore collective-bargaining rights to Wisconsin’s public employees.

“There is no clamor among Democrats in Virginia to give collective-bargaining privileges to public workers,” Barro notes, “nor have Democrats in Washington, D.C., shown much interest in empowering federal workers’ unions. This is because Democratic officeholders, quite rationally, prefer to write their budgets themselves, rather than hand over control of employee-compensation costs to unions. Once Wisconsin lawmakers get used to the new status quo, I think this is likely to be true there, too.”

I don’t doubt that he’s right. My hesitation has only to do with the special circumstances of Wisconsin, where the outcry was so extraordinary and where the Democratic officeholders made very strong statements and gestures of support in favor of preserving collective-bargaining for state employees.

But I also think this goes to the reason it’s worth having collective bargaining for public employees: As Barro’s post admits, the incentives of public employees and the incentives of even Democratic officeholders are not always, or even often, aligned. In these negotiations, Democrats and their appointees are management, and they want to spend as little as possible in order to keep tax rates and deficits low, while the workers want to bargain for a better deal. As I’ve been arguing for some time, that’s quite similar to what happens in the private sector, and though I admit that the role unions play in funding campaigns changes the dynamic a bit, it a) changes it less than many people think and b) is a good argument for campaign-finance reform, not for taking collective-bargaining rights away from public workers but still allowing corporations to benefit from that exact same dynamic.

By Ezra Klein  | March 10, 2011; 10:54 AM ET
 
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Comments

If Democrats win the recall elections and are able to do so, they'll restore collective bargaining rights. This will be the major issue in the recalls, making it a very different situation than Virginia, etc.

Posted by: fuse | March 10, 2011 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Dude, he's wrong. If the Wisconsin Democrats don't give collective bargaining rights back to state workers once they are in the majority again, they will only hold that majority for one term. They know that, you know that, we know that. How you can say the stuff in this post, knowing that, is beyond me.

Pushing to become the new Broder perhaps?

Posted by: kindness1 | March 10, 2011 11:16 AM | Report abuse

This is because Democratic officeholders, quite rationally, prefer to write their budgets themselves, rather than hand over control of employee-compensation costs to unions.


So if its rational as you say then why are Democrats against it? The comments pages here are going crazy and the Capitol in Wisconsin has been inhabited by loud but reasonably respectful demonstrators comparing Governor Walker to Hitler, Ahmidinijad, Mubarak and Khadaffi.

Personally I agree that its rational but don't get why others don't share our beliefs.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 10, 2011 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Josh Barro's argument relies on the assumption that there are no meaningful differences between Virginia Democrats and Wisconsin Democrats. That's an empirical question and one I would venture to say is wrong. Virginia are more than likely, much more conservative than Wisconsin Democrats, so the comparison is not as straight-forward as Barro would like us to believe.

Posted by: ntb1 | March 10, 2011 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Process matters, so recall elections would be prefaced on pro-union candidate being installed. With the introduction of a return to normalcy type bill, I don't think even the Democratic state senators would oppose it.

Posted by: ctown_woody | March 10, 2011 11:34 AM | Report abuse

"I think there’s at least an outside chance that Josh Barro is right that the next time Democrats control both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature and hold the governorship, they won’t actually restore collective-bargaining rights to Wisconsin’s public employees."

i dont agree with that.

progressives do not like the heavyhanded, brutal way that we are being threatened and menaced into losing our rights and freedoms.
~~we dont want to lose collective bargaining rights under the cloak of night, to a deceitful governor, backed by corporate interests...
the method and intent is a violation of our principles.
collective bargaining rights in wisconsin need to be restored...they were unlawfully and undemocratically usurped.

~~we dont want to lose planned parenthood, and have our doctors murdered, and healthcare workers and women exercising their right to choose...threatened, brutally harassed....terrified to walk into a clinic, or past their booths on campuses.

~~we dont want to lose npr, and all of its necessary and vital programming.

~~we dont want to see investigations that wreak of the worst bigotry and hatefulness, convened, on what is disgracefully labelled as, "the radicalization of american muslims."
this is a national disgrace. the american muslims have been suffering in this country now, since 9/11. it is unconscionable, how they are being treated with suspicion, as pariahs in the united states.

~~we dont ever want another one of our elected officials shot, as possible presidentail contenders and members of congress make vicious and provocative comments about other leaders in our government.

all of this has gone to the outer limits of what is safe and appropriate in a functioning democracy.
we need to restore and secure our rights and freedoms, and we cant have the inmates running roughshod over our institutions.
i believe that collective bargaining rights will be restored.

and if they are not, it will be a victory for the forces that are gnawing away at our freedoms, like rodents.

Posted by: jkaren | March 10, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Either way, confidence has been crushed. Unions would be foolish to ask for deferred compensation ever again.

Posted by: will12 | March 10, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I would love to see a law stating that if you receive government funds, either in the form of contracts or direct employment, or represent people who do, you cannot donate to political campaigns lor to political parties and vice versa.

That would cover both unions representing public employee AND corporations who bid on defense cotnract, or road building, or any other publicly funded project.

I'd also add an amendment that if you're a PAC that makes political contributions, you can't accept money from those groups. That would cut down on the round about ways of funding campaigns.


What do you think, Mr. Klein?

Posted by: tjk1 | March 10, 2011 12:09 PM | Report abuse

@will 12,

they were foolish for asking for it in the first place. Just as an FYI its foolish to bargain on benefits as well (and the perversion of the employer medical tax deduction makes it so). I've never understood why you'd bargain for something that you may or not may use (like healthcare) as opposed to something like money that you can absolutely use.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 10, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse

It would be "nice" to see a tsunami wave of Independents take away power from the Republicans and Democrats .. that may be the best thing to come out of this cycle.

Posted by: Recall_confederate_senators | March 10, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, it's rational for managers of every political stripe to want to keep as much control of their budget as they can. That's the role of a manager, but that doesn't mean that allowing them maximum control is necessarily a good thing. Workers should be allowed to collectively bargain because no matter whether their boss is a Democrat or Republican their needs and motivations are going to be different from the workers.

Obviously, as scummy as I think Walker is, the peole comparing him to Hitler are just being foolish.

Posted by: MosBen | March 10, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Corporations that deal with government have nothing comparable to the monopoly granted a union with collective bargaining. Government is forced to negotiate with the union in collective bargaining; it cannot simply elect to negotiate with a different group of workers if the demands of the current workers are unreasonable. This is nothing remotely similar to when government contracts are bid out.

Posted by: cdosquared5 | March 10, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats will have to run campaigns and make promises and if they don't step up to the Collective Bargaining Plate, they wont be elected, and this will drive Independents to gain power, which would be great!

The reason walker will be removed from office, along with 8 republican senators, is because these people provided a false and misleading agenda, in that they did not bring up their agenda of stripping away Collective Bargaining.

If the Dems, don't provide the solution, Independents will!

Posted by: Recall_confederate_senators | March 10, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

If there's anything to be learned in this mess, it's the fact that people are sick of politics as usual and that polarizing anxiety is going to be resolved by a new Independent party ... it's amazing that no one seems to see this coming. The presidential election will be a farce as usual and hopefully there will be alternative choices that divide the republicans and democrats into smaller slices!

Posted by: Recall_confederate_senators | March 10, 2011 12:41 PM | Report abuse

@MosBen,

i was being a little bit snarky there but i do agree there's no room for calling Walker names like Hitler et al just like there was no room during HCR for calling President Obama that. if Republicans didn't like HCR then they should have voted in 2008 and if Dems don't like Walker they should have voted in 2010. if nothing else hopefully this decreases voter apathy.

that being said I agree that managers of budgets need control but it just seems too easy to me to push costs to the taxpayer because they'll always just keep paying it. Well you know what they won't. At some point they get fed up with the amount of taxes they pay and revolt and hence you have the Tea Party (warts and all) (Same thing will happen btw with the subsides in PPACA I fear).

Do I worry that too much power is situated on the other side as opposed to with unions, sure and I've said all through this I'd be fine with them keeping their collective bargaining if they were actually bargaining as those in the private sector do, you know adversary vs adversary as opposed to politician to said benefactor to politician.

You know full well that we live in the highest taxed state in the country and when Governor Christie has his upcoming battle with the public sector unions here its not going to be pretty but he'll have the ammunition of fact that the AVERAGE private sector worker in NJ gets $47000 in benefits per year. So when those of us in the private sector are decreasing our healthcare benefits because of costs that we can't afford for ourselves its kind of hard to feel bad for those in the public sector with what the Governor wants their deal to be and thankfully it helps his case that State President Sweeney is standing somewhat with him.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 10, 2011 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Barro seems to forget that sometimes legislators are elected with support from union members and their allies in the private sector. These voters and legislators realize that teachers, fire-fighters, police are not some distant underling, but rather neighbors and friends. There's a willingness on both sides to negotiate in good faith. In Wisconsin, given the concessions in recent years -- and even this year minus the collective bargaining issue -- my sense is that those contract negotiations were probably a lot easier to conduct than might be imagined. These teachers and public sector workers were a lot more willing to make significant compensation concession than say conservatives are willing to implement a 3-4 percent tax increase on top earners during a period of economic strain.

Of course it is always easier to dictate terms. This is especially true for an inept manager, or a leader who is a pathological liar (e.g. credibility matters in negotiations between equals or near equals).

Posted by: JPRS | March 10, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, what I don't understand about the arguments about how much union employees are compensated is that it seems to me that the response should be to renegotiate the deal. Times change and sometimes people make bad deals. That happens, and while it's certainly not a good position to be in, it doesn't say to me that the solution is no bargaining at all.

Can I get a link to the stat about the average benefits for public employees? I'd like to know a bit more on how they arrived at that, especially if the stat is really about the average worker or if that's the average benefit. I think we can agree that those are two distinct things.

As for your comments about tax payers being burdened with the costs of negotiations, I guess that's a fair point, but in pretty much every case the problem is more complex than "The unions did it!" There are lots of reasons for the budget problems most states, including NJ and WI, are facing and those could be addressed a number of ways. Attacking unions, and in particular collective bargaining rights, is an ideological cudgel. Asking employees to bear some pain in bad times is certainly acceptable, but there are lots of other actions to be taken to balance a budget, and bargaining in 2020 is not related to this year's budget. Bargain better in 2020 if you're concerned about that, but it's not related to balancing this year's budget.

Posted by: MosBen | March 10, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

@MosBen,

here's the link. And note that it comes from State Senate President Sweeney (a Democrat as you know) although it does state "public safety worker" so i don't know if that just means fire, police etc or not? I don't have a link to whoever did the study and the data they used.

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/03/nj_senate_president_sweeney_sa_2.html


Every state is different and every budget is different and every union is different in its power and influence.


As I've said I have no problem renegotiating deals like that in tough times and good but the process itself needs to be transparent and in public sector unions negotiations with governments I haven't seen them to be that way. they need to be as fair to the taxpayer as they are to the union member.


There are example after example where unions haven't had to take the brunt of the bad economic times. I read an article this morning that stated that NY's public sector unions have received an increase in pay of 14% SINCE the recession. So is that what the stimulus money was going for?

http://www.oneidadispatch.com/articles/2011/02/22/news/doc4d648e8b9341f175128803.txt


For those of us that have taken pay cuts over the last several years, that's not shared sacrifice. That's me making less but being forced to pay you more because you make the rules.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 10, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

"Just as an FYI its foolish to bargain on benefits as well (and the perversion of the employer medical tax deduction makes it so). I've never understood why you'd bargain for something that you may or not may use (like health care) as opposed to something like money that you can absolutely use."

I am scratching my head over this comment.

Do you actually think that something that "you may or may not use" is of no value? If that is the case, why would anyone want any sort of insurance? Strange comment from someone in your line of work, visionbrkr.

The peace of mind that comes from knowing that your family will always have access to treatment for injury and illness, and will not be bankrupted by a serious illness is obviously of great value. Many workers, union and non-union, will gladly forgo higher salary when there is a strong benefit package, especially for health. That balancing act between benefits and wages (along with working conditions and work rules) in the overall compensation package of the workers is a central part of the collective bargaining process.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 10, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Ok, the link you gave me does say what you said, but it's just a quote from a politician about his opinion, but without anything to suppport his assertion. He also said "public safety worker" when he said the number, but then the story transitioned into a discussion of all public sector employees. While I think you could have a good argument about whether teachers contribute to public safety, I think it's questionable to assume that they're included in that number, and a secretary working for NJ Transit certainly isn't a public safety worker.

If that number is an average of police, fire, and medical employees, then I'm not sure what use the number is to a broader discussion of public sector employee compensation. Yeah, cops get paid a lot in a lot of places. If you think that should change, that's fine, but that cops make a lot doesn't mean that all public sector employees do.

As for the openness of the negotiating process, I think we agree that it should be very open. That's fine with me, and I'll support just about any move to make government contracts (both with private companies and unions) more transparent.

As for public workers taking the brunt of the recession, why should the necessarily be equally as bad off as the private sector? Part of taking a government job is that you know you'll never get rich, but you'll have more job security, and less threat of pay cuts. That having been said, many (most?) public employees have been forced to take furlough days during the recession, which do amount to a pay cut, even if their pay grade is the same.

Posted by: MosBen | March 10, 2011 3:05 PM | Report abuse

"visionbrkr, it's rational for managers of every political stripe to want to keep as much control of their budget as they can. That's the role of a manager, but that doesn't mean that allowing them maximum control is necessarily a good thing. Workers should be allowed to collectively bargain because no matter whether their boss is a Democrat or Republican their needs and motivations are going to be different from the workers."

States/municipalities should be allowed to not have to deal with collectively bargaining leeches. Walmart doesn't.

Posted by: krazen1211 | March 10, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

@Patrick,

I didn't say of no value but of less value that the actual, tangible money in the negotiation process. For example is it better for the public sector worker to have a copay at $5 for every service and a $50,000 salary or a copay at say $20 for every service and a $60,000 salary. Now I'm trying to make a point here with the numbers so give me some latitude with the disparity but if someone's relatively healthy and just going for preventative checkups then he or she'd never spend that much money in benefit to warrant the richer, cadillac plan. That's my point.

And yes in my line of work I lose out financially when I recommend this rationale to people but I'm fine with that because its in their better interest with the way utilization drives premium costs higher with richer plans. In most instances you can't spend in benefit what you pay in premium up to a certain point.


Having insurance doesn't mean you won't be bankrupted. Medical bankruptcy (while very rare) still happens in Canada from what I understand.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 10, 2011 3:31 PM | Report abuse

krazen1211, Walmart *should* have to deal with a union if their workers decide to form one.

The leeches bit doesn't have any argument to it, so I'll just take it as a foolishly made slur.

Posted by: MosBen | March 10, 2011 3:37 PM | Report abuse

"I didn't say of no value but of less value that the actual, tangible money in the negotiation process. For example is it better for the public sector worker to have a copay at $5 for every service and a $50,000 salary or a copay at say $20 for every service and a $60,000 salary. Now I'm trying to make a point here with the numbers so give me some latitude with the disparity but if someone's relatively healthy and just going for preventative checkups then he or she'd never spend that much money in benefit to warrant the richer, cadillac plan. That's my point."

visionbrkr,

Your point was that it was "foolish" for them to bargain over health coverage at all.

And the notion that your hypothetical is the only sort of "bargain" that might be struck is not the way it works in the real world. For example, workers might bargain for the right to choose from several insurance options, with corresponding varying levels of contributions by the employer, so that they can weigh the best trade-off of coverage with their level of contribution through salary deductions. Most of the public employees that I know make annual or bi-annual choices from a menu of plans and I am sure that having some choice is a valued result arising from their history of contract negotiations.

I am sure that a few people manage to go bankrupt in Canada, but that is a red herring. The number of people who file for bankruptcy in the USA due to medical expenses is mostly comprised of people with little or no insurance coverage.

A low income service employee that pushes a mop all night in a government building will logically feel very happy to have a reasonable employer-paid health plan, and it will quite naturally be a very important issue for the bargaining unit of which he or she is a member.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 10, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

@MosBen,

Yes to be fair we'd need to see where the data comes from. Oh btw on the "cops make a lot" front here's another link.

The sad part is that cops in safer areas seem to make more than cops in more dangerous areas. That's wrong and should be turned on its head IMO.

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/09/nj_police_salaries_rank_highes.html


"As for public workers taking the brunt of the recession, why should the necessarily be equally as bad off as the private sector? "

No one (well at least not me) wants public sector workers to suffer or anyone to suffer for that matter. The point is that the private sector PAYS FOR the public sector so when the private sector loses 7 million jobs in a two year span and is still in an ever fragile recovery from the worst recession in 80 years maybe its not a good time for public sector employees in NY to get a 14% raise over 2 years for example.


http://www.oneidadispatch.com/articles/2011/02/22/news/doc4d648e8b9341f175128803.txt

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 10, 2011 3:50 PM | Report abuse

@Patrick,

well then if that's how it came off that's not what I meant and I don't believe I said at all. Its meaningful to bargain for healthcare benefits but only to a certain extent. At some point diminishing returns set in and it isn't rational to bargain over something you'll receive little or no value over like the difference between a $10 and a $15 copay for example.


While you take the example of a low income service employee I'll take the example of a state attorney making $170k a year that is relatively healthy. What's the sense in that employee having a $5 copay and the corresponding premium attached to that cost. Wouldn't it make more sense for that person (as you say) to have a choice in plans? In my state of NJ they do have currently a choice of several plans and they pay 1.5% of their salary towards whatever plan they choose. 96% choose the best plan out there (NJ10 I believe) and I have no idea what the other 4% choose and why they do it because of the perverse incentives we have. There should be (IMO) a scale that as you take on more risk your premium costs go down so it incents people to appropriate levels of coverage but also doesn't disincentivize the low paid employee in your example to a plan they can't afford.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 10, 2011 4:04 PM | Report abuse

"visionbrkr, it's rational for managers of every political stripe to want to keep as much control of their budget as they can. That's the role of a manager, but that doesn't mean that allowing them maximum control is necessarily a good thing. Workers should be allowed to collectively bargain because no matter whether their boss is a Democrat or Republican their needs and motivations are going to be different from the workers."

States/municipalities should be allowed to not have to deal with collectively bargaining leeches. Walmart doesn't.

Posted by: krazen1211 | March 10, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

"krazen1211, Walmart *should* have to deal with a union if their workers decide to form one.

The leeches bit doesn't have any argument to it, so I'll just take it as a foolishly made slur."

Ah, so you don't actually believe in freedom of association and enterprise. Power is supposed to be a 1 way street.

Got it. It's a shame that unions aren't subject to antitrust lawsuits.

Posted by: krazen1211 | March 10, 2011 4:16 PM | Report abuse

"At some point diminishing returns set in and it isn't rational to bargain over something you'll receive little or no value over like the difference between a $10 and a $15 copay for example."

Peace.

I completely agree with that.

But (once again) in my opinion, that is not the sort of an issue that is ever in major contention in bargaining. More often (as in the Wisconsin concessions) the issues concern the amount the employee contributes as a payroll deduction, which is a de facto salary discussion.

Or they may center on the insurance options, or a proposed dramatic change in the overall coverage, etc. I have never heard of any instance where a tiny change in the co-pay requirement (of what is otherwise the same plan with the same employee contribution) became the source of any major impasse in labor-management contract negotiations.

Have a good evening, visionbrkr.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 10, 2011 5:41 PM | Report abuse

"krazen1211, Walmart *should* have to deal with a union if their workers decide to form one."

That's ridiculous. Walmart should have to deal with a union if and only if it agrees to doing so. If not, not.

Posted by: justin84 | March 10, 2011 6:46 PM | Report abuse

"That's ridiculous. Walmart should have to deal with a union if and only if it agrees to doing so. If not, not."

Today I agree with justin84.

No employer, be it Walmart or the pre-Walker State of Wisconsin, is forced to deal with any union. If the employees form a union, and if the employer cannot (or chooses not to) come to terms on a labor agreement, the employer is a free agent, and can replace the existing union workforce with non-unionized employees.

Of course, it is rare, because replacing an entire skilled and experienced labor force comes at an obvious risk to the employer's operations, but it has happened (PATCO being a famous modern example).

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 10, 2011 8:35 PM | Report abuse

pcow

The Democrats in Wisconsin who left the state are cowards, and are just Anti-American. Their latest video rants on YouTube are like something Charlie Sheen would say:

http://fms.nu/eYM6hB

And why are the all so touchy feely? It gives me the creeps!

Posted by: webcontent2011 | March 11, 2011 4:06 AM | Report abuse

“There is no clamor among Democrats in Virginia to give collective-bargaining privileges to public workers,” HUH WHA ?
What a bunch of horse manure, it is a well known fact among anyone who has a 6th grade education and is not a communist that according to the Federal courts public sector unions are illegal. And with good reason :
There is no right to collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is a legislated privilege given to unions by friendly lawmakers.

The federal courts have been very clear on this. A federal district court in North Carolina put it quite eloquently in a decision upholding the Tar Heel States law prohibiting public-sector bargaining, saying, “All citizens have the right to associate in groups to advocate their special interests to the government. It is something entirely different to grant any one interest group special status and access to the decision-making process.”

A law granting public-sector unions monopoly bargaining privileges gives a union, a special interest group, two bites at the apple. First, it uses its political clout to elect public officials. Then it negotiates with the very same officials.

Wisconsin demonstrators are the old 1960's communist SDS who vow to destroy America. You remember them and the murdering underground weathermen led by Bill Ayers.
They have lots of Soros money to spend, look at those videos on the internet, they are mostly out of state commie students who never worked a day in their pitiful lives. WAKE UP! people, the barbarians are at the gate. Get the actual truth, only at Thewatchmen.FM

Posted by: northpal | March 11, 2011 7:12 AM | Report abuse

@patrick,

yes while its true that bargaining is usually more broadly based issues it does get down to those specifics when you're actually doing the negotiating and the fact that public sector unions primarily request or require exorbidently priced Cadillac plans ends up coming into play otherwise they wouldn't have them as private sector unions have realized over the last several years and private sector non unionized employees have come to have for much longer than that.

I had occasion about 10 years ago to go before a local NJ school board as a client of mine asked me to present to them an option similar to the one I discussed yesterday with a raise from a $5 copay to $20 that would including a corresponding substantial increase in their take home pay that would more than offset the potential cost. Needless to say I was basically laughed out of the room by them. While that's all fine and good the problem is that its not solely their money that they're spending, its all the taxpayers money and many of them came out and said that they felt obligated to receive these benefits because they teach "our kids" as if there is something wrong with our kids.

Hope you had a good evening!

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 11, 2011 9:39 AM | Report abuse

"I had occasion about 10 years ago to go before a local NJ school board as a client of mine asked me to present to them an option similar to the one I discussed yesterday with a raise from a $5 copay to $20 that would including a corresponding substantial increase in their take home pay that would more than offset the potential cost. Needless to say I was basically laughed out of the room by them."

visionbrkr,

Interesting, but not at all "needless to say."

In my state, for as long as I can remember, all teachers state-wide have had a menu of health coverage enrollment options, with related offsets in the deductions from their take home pay.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 11, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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