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Posted at 6:01 PM ET, 02/22/2011

On and on Wisconsin

By Charles Lane

The estimable Greg Sargent notes public opinion surveys showing public support for collective bargaining rights, suggesting that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has overplayed his hand by refusing to accept a union-Democratic Party "compromise," that would supposedly trade big cutbacks in health benefits and pensions for sacred fundamental collective bargaining rights. Walker's "decision to reject the union's offer to accept his fiscal demands in exchange for preserving their rights did a great deal to shift the conversation into one no longer focused on Wisconsin's budgetary needs," Greg writes.

Fair point. But this says a lot more about the unions' loud and skillful P.R. campaign than it does about the actual merits of the issues. Forgive me for being lawyerly, but I am still waiting for the unions, et al. to put it in writing. So far, this "offer" exists mainly in the realm of TV and blog posts. Can the unions and their AWOL allies in the Wisconsin legislature answer the following very good question the governor has posed: How do they guarantee that economic concessions actually get made, in a timely manner, in every single one of the 72 counties and 1,000-plus municipalities across the state where bargaining would have to be carried out?

And what, exactly, do they mean by "collective bargaining rights?" If they mean the right to sit down and negotiate wages, benefits and conditions on a periodic basis, that would be one thing. But if they mean the right to de facto eternal representation status for the current unions (as if AFSCME and the NEA are the only conceivable representatives the public workers of Wisconsin could ever want) and a mandatory, state-enforced, dues check-off, that would be quite another.

Frankly, I think Walker should call their bluff. Pocket the concessions on pensions and benefits, then agree to restore the right of workers to negotiate contracts -- provided that the unions also agree to submit to annual recertification elections and abandon the dues check-off, as his bill provides. As I have said all along, these are the reforms the unions really fear, because they strike at the heart of their accustomed power over state and local electoral politics.

Let's see whether they're willing to live with that deal -- and what happens to the poll numbers if and when they refuse it, as I expect they would.

By Charles Lane  | February 22, 2011; 6:01 PM ET
Categories:  Lane  | Tags:  Charles Lane  
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I am against any organization that requires me to become a member to work and that demands dues from me as well. In my opinion, that violates some of my fundamental rights!

Posted by: Eddo1 | February 22, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Republicans don't care what the people want, they only care what corporations and the filthy rich want!

Posted by: thomasmc1957 | February 22, 2011 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Scott Walker should submit to annual re-certification as Governor as well. Then we'll find out if the voters of Wisconsin REALLy elected him to do what he is insisting on doing. Personally, I have some doubts if they actually support his approach. As has been noted, this current annual "budget crisis" in Wisconsin amounts to roughly a dime a day per Wisconsin taxpayer.

Posted by: citizenw | February 22, 2011 6:45 PM | Report abuse

They were elected to create jobs and listen to the people, looks like they are doing neither.

Posted by: JRM2 | February 22, 2011 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Is it not possible at this time in history for the workers of America to imagine a better paradigm or business model to protect and further their interests other than the Labor/Progressive/Democrat alliance?

Why not?

Posted by: benhazin | February 22, 2011 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Your article is false. All surveys show support for Gov. Walker.

The union offered to concede the changes if the collective bargaining restrictions were changed to temporary, but Walker will not budge.

As Obama once said, "We won, elections have consequences." As the public sector unions crumble so will the democrat party.

Posted by: maj57 | February 22, 2011 6:57 PM | Report abuse


Hey Democrats,

“If we want to attract businesses to Nevada that puts people back to work, the time has come for us to outlaw prostitution,” Mr. Harry Reid said.

Is Washington D.C. exempt?


Posted by: kstobbe1 | February 22, 2011 6:58 PM | Report abuse

This article is a load of crap. The unions have said they would accept the cuts if the bargaining rights were left alone. Period. They have never said they would agree to some changes and not others.

If the governor proposed such a "deal," the unions would reject it, the protests would continue unabated, and the poll numbers would stay the same.

A "budget repair bill" isn't supposed to make sweeping changes. It is for emergency spending cuts or other adjustments to close budget shortfalls for the current budget. Sweeping changes belong in the next budget, which is due to take effect in just 4 months anyway -- or in a separate piece of legislation.

Walker talks about a silent majority that supports this bill (as compared to the vocal minority protesting). If that is the case, why did he have to put this into a "repair bill" and slip it in under the radar? Why not introduce a separate bill called "The Union Reform Act of 2011"? Why is Walker afraid to call a spade a spade if there's this "silent majority" out there?

Isn't that type of behavior exactly what angered Walker and his tea-party supporters about how Obamacare was handled? Jam it through without any inclusive debate?

I guess it's kinda like term limits. Bringing bills like this out into the sunlight for everyone to see is always the other side's responsibility. But when "our" side is in power, we can do whatever we want, thank you very much.

If Walker truly cared about his fiscal responsibilities, he would separate the cuts from the structural changes. Period.

Anything short of that is pure grandstanding for his own political gain. He obviously cares about nothing else, certainly not what is best for the state and its workers.

Posted by: tomh65 | February 22, 2011 7:04 PM | Report abuse

I cannot imagine that any of the "Four hijacked Americans fatally shot near coast of Somalia" were members of any Wisconsin union. I certainly can imagine them as rich Republicans who boldly made the decision to flaunt their wealth off the coast of Somalia and bravely stuck to that decision without further negotiation.

Posted by: frenchofficial | February 22, 2011 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Is the governor of Wisconsin alleging that the state's budgetary woes are all the fault of teachers and state workers? If so, I think someone needs to get him a psychiatric exam or a lie detector test. I have no issue with attempting to obtain some givebacks from the unions involved here but they surely make up only a small percentage of the shortfall. I wonder if he is suggesting that state legislators take a pay/benefit cut similar to what he is demanding from the union folks. I mean, everything is on the table...right? When a state is in economic distress, the burden should fall on ALL of its citizens to contribute to the solution...not just the ones he chooses to use as an example.

Posted by: Rsquared | February 22, 2011 7:06 PM | Report abuse

The polls have been split. The article misrepresents that fact.

Posted by: alfisher1 | February 22, 2011 7:08 PM | Report abuse

@frenchofficial: what does a Somali hijacking have to do with this article?

Posted by: tomh65 | February 22, 2011 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Is the governor of Wisconsin alleging that the state's budgetary woes are all the fault of teachers and state workers? Yes!!! Their luxurious pension and health care plans, 100% paid for by the taxpayers, are bankrupting the states. That's a better deal than the taxpayers of Wisconsin get. Most of them have to pay for their own.

Posted by: penniless_taxpayer | February 22, 2011 7:16 PM | Report abuse

No kidding he's overplayed his hand. People are seeing through the Republicans. They don't care about the middle class or workers, they only care about the wealthy and well-connected like Wall Street.

They're also seeing that he's bought and paid for by the Koch brothers who definitely don't have the middle class on their minds and people know it.

After conning the American people for thirty years now people are catching on that the Republicans say one thing and do another.

The American people may be more stupid and less educated than when I was young but they're not that stupid and uneducated.

Posted by: affable100 | February 22, 2011 7:19 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if Mr. Lane is as concerned with the influence corporations and their associations have over government as he is with unions. If he would reduce the power of one, would he also reduce the power of the other? Until we have free trade agreements that allow labor to cross international boundaries to seek the best jobs with the same ease we allow capital and goods to flow, unions -- weak as they've been made -- are one of the few forces left to see that our standard of living doesn't swirl down the drain in a race to the competitive bottom.

Posted by: mark2ain | February 22, 2011 7:19 PM | Report abuse

To answer your somewhat rhetorical questions, Mr. Lane, "yes." Workers, also called "people", or "voters", do want the continuing right to evaluate their employment as their needs and situation changes. So the idea that Wisconsin should demand and be given the unilateral and permanent right to dictate all terms of a continuing employment contract should be rejected. Governments and other organizations have held this power in the past - we call it serfdom, feudalism, bondage - sometimes slavery.

Posted by: Terry29 | February 22, 2011 7:23 PM | Report abuse

I'd rather be forced to pay dues and have a group of people negotiating together than have to negotiate with a major institution with just my bargaining power.

You get what you pay for and America needs to wake up to this simple fact.

The "Right to Work" folks won't tell you but what it really means is the right to work for less.

Posted by: affable100 | February 22, 2011 7:23 PM | Report abuse

@penniless_taxpayer: Teachers and state workers are being paid by our taxes to do work. Do you expect them to work without pay. We truly need to hire more teachers to educate illiterates like you.

Posted by: drakecage | February 22, 2011 7:25 PM | Report abuse

I registered here so I could post a comment. My comment was refused with the reason stated, I had already posted too many comments. That was my first one.

The Washington Post is a Liberal Propoganda rag not a newspaper.

Posted by: maj57 | February 22, 2011 7:27 PM | Report abuse

maj57 wrote (and lots of other people write)

"As Obama once said, "We won, elections have consequences."

The Republicans refused to accept that elections have consequences when the Democrats won. They engaged for two years in a practice of obstructionism in every area from judicial appointments to up or down votes on legislation. Why should the Democrats act differently when the positions are reversed?

With respect to the right of collective bargaining, the First Amendment protects the right of peaceable assembly even when the exercise of that right offends many. It is the price we pay for living in a free society. We extend that right to corporations even though they _aren't_ people. It's odd that good Republican constitutionalists are perfectly happy with the overwhelming and corrupting power of corporations while fearful of collective bargaining.

Finally, Charles Lane's "put it in writing" approach is truly amusing. Why doesn't he suggest that the unions _and_ the governor put their agreement in writing. Why not sign the document in a public ceremony, then together they can go rein in the power of the Koch Brothers, a truly corrupting force, before they buy up all of Wisconsin. What do you say, Charles?

Posted by: QuickBen | February 22, 2011 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Looks like a lot of union members here are fighting for there benefits that we tax payers are paying. Too bad for you, unions don't belong in the goverment period. Why should we pay for benefits we don't receive? The gravy train is over for you politically connected government unions. That's right these people are getting in based on who they know on the board or political party controlling the local school district. That is a big reason why these schools are failing! They don't care about the kids they care about themselves and the school boards care about there friends and family. Its a scam of epic proportion and it needs to stop now! Walker call my governor Corbett in Pennsylvania, so we can follow your lead. Wisconsin get and and support Walker-the time is now.

Posted by: djg0921 | February 22, 2011 7:30 PM | Report abuse

"I am against any organization that requires me to become a member to work and that demands dues from me as well. In my opinion, that violates some of my fundamental rights!"

I this really upsets you, you're going to have to leave the US and park your tax-hating butt in a third world country...

Being born in the US requires to become a citizen and requires you to pay any taxes that your fellow citizens vote for.

Becoming a union member requires a majority vote of your fellow colleagues and the dues amounts require a majority vote by all members in your union.

This is actually an even sweeter deal than US citizenship, because you get to vote to become a member in the first place (as opposed to being born into it) and then you get to personally vote on the "tax" you have to pay, as opposed to having your congressperson decide and implement a rate without asking you.

Democracy is the worst system of government in the world, except for all the others that have been tried...

Love it or leave it buddy.

Posted by: jimmoffet | February 22, 2011 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Why are the teachers/public servants so enraged? This is easily explained by comparing the response of drug addicts being denied access to their drug of choice to union members not getting their way. In the case of the Wisconsin Unions, the drug is OPM (Other People's Money). The withdrawl symptoms are stunningly similar to withdrawl from opium. Tough love and denied access to OPM will eventually save all these poor dears from acting like children! Crush the unions and free the addicts from the OPM.

Posted by: dk2123 | February 22, 2011 7:34 PM | Report abuse

@tomh65 Exactly as you pointed out. The author of this is a load of crap.

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever." Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

Posted by: frenchofficial | February 22, 2011 7:35 PM | Report abuse

The only poll that really matters is a poll of what Gabrielle Giffords would say if she could speak normally. Luckily, Charles Lane has that covered.

Posted by: fakedude2 | February 22, 2011 7:37 PM | Report abuse

In states where there is above the national average union membership, they lead in worker income.
The third quarter 2010 US businesses made more money than ever before. Wake up my peeps, you deserve to make enough to live. The banks are the ones that drained pension accounts in this country.
Workers Unite! Median income has been flat for 30 years. Corporations are doing fine. Workers are getting crushed.

Posted by: stevepj | February 22, 2011 7:44 PM | Report abuse

In a move reminiscent of Poland under martial law in the early 1980s, Wisconsin's "General" Walker and other power-hungry Republicans in the Wisconsin state legislature (and their party brethren across the country), are attempting to unilaterally decree that henceforth virtually all public union activity will be controlled by the authoritarian state. Walker has even said that he may need to call in the National Guard. And the Teabagger droolers (Federalist etc) support this statist takeover? What a bunch hypocritical slack jawed yokels.

This is the same governor (Walker) who has lied about the state budget crisis, claiming erroneously that the salaries and benefits of public workers are to blame. When in actuality, the governor's tax cut for the RICH program (according to Wisconsin's nonpartisan state budget office) was what turned a budget surplus into a budget deficit this year.

This is the same governor who is engaging in blatant political favoritism and cronyism, by pledging to maintain the collective bargaining rights of the public unions who supported him in the last election (police, firefighters). Meanwhile, the rights of teachers, correction officers, social workers, and other public professionals are being attacked by Walker. Obviously, he's targeting their right to engage in collective bargaining, as a form of political payback for opposing him in the last election.

This is a clear statist attempt to destroy the more Democratic leaning unions, while protecting the more "conservative,right wing" big dollar interest groups and other funding sources for Governor Walker and his like-minded authoritarian peers in the G.O.P. across the country.

I hope more and more states join in. This is the start of something big.

The Thug Republican party is going to learn the hard way what real grassroots protests look like (unlike their astroturfed Teabagger shout-fests that are bankrolled by right wing oil billionaires i.e. the Koch Bros).

2012 is going to be payback time for the Dictator wannabe Republican party, big-time.


Posted by: DrainYou | February 22, 2011 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Wow, DrainYou...You've got all the talking points down pat.

You're a good, little boot licker. There will be an extra biscuit in your rations this week, you toadie.

BTW. I doubt 2012 will be a "come-uppance" for the GOP...The Dems will probably be too busy fleeing to vote.

Posted by: jpmenavich | February 22, 2011 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Unions are an anachronism within a party that still believes it is 1935. The Unions and their enablers in the Democratic Party have about as much relevance in the 21st century as buggy whips and film cameras. Every single state in which they are entrenched is groaning under the strain of public sector pension and benefits costs. This battle is about the future. Do the voters work for the public sector unions or do they work for us. If it is the former our democracy is doomed.

Posted by: jkk1943 | February 22, 2011 9:23 PM | Report abuse

But what would Gabby Giffords think?

Aren't you going to speak for her again?

Posted by: DougJ3 | February 22, 2011 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Lane, your reasoning is specious. The unions have agreed to the Governor's proposed increases in employee deductions for pension and health benefits. The Governor has refused to compromise. His intransigence suggests that his intent is union busting rather than fiscal reform.

As you are an attorney, you no doubt are familiar with one of the first laws of negotiating: don't bid against yourself. Walker made the first gambit. He's been signaled that the unions will meet him halfway. Ball's in Walker's court. If he
chooses not to play ball, don't blame the unions.

As for Walker's fiscal bona fides: what's that provision in the budget repair bill (see page 24) about contracting to privatize the sale or operation of state heating, cooling and power plants *with or without competitive bids*?

Silly me, I almost thought that Walker was trying to balance the Wisconsin budget or something.

Posted by: ANetliner | February 23, 2011 1:17 AM | Report abuse


It would be more accurate to say that unions are anathema to a party that wishes that it were still 1872. This battle _is_ for the future, but the Republican vision of the future hasn't progressed past the Columbian Exposition of 1893. I'm afraid, however, that the dwelling they plan for us to live in is not the White City of Daniel Burnham but the "Murder Castle" of Dr. H. H. Holmes.

Posted by: QuickBen | February 23, 2011 1:18 AM | Report abuse

This is part of a concerted nationwide attack by Republicans on workers' bargaining rights, a direct attack on the middle class. The Republicans will not be happy until every worker is homeless and on food stamps. Fight the governor to the death. Mark Montgomery NYC, NY

Posted by: boboberg | February 23, 2011 6:05 AM | Report abuse

As everyone now knows the workers have agreed to give up compensation. The fight is to take away the basic right to collective bargaining, to take us back to the early 1900's. Where is Upton Sinclair now that we need him?

But look, my Dad always told me, "Look at the bottom line, Leonard." Here the bottom line is whether public workers get more in total compensation than comparable private ones. The data are clear. There are many studies. Here are two:

"Jeffrey Keefe, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, said public employees do not make more than comparable private employees. According to Keefe, comparing private and public employees with the same educational level, experience and work schedule shows private employees make 11 percent more in wages and 5 percent more in total compensation than public workers."

"The nonpartisan National Institute on Retirement Security found that, on average, total compensation is 6.8 percent less for state employees and 7.4 percent less for local employees than for comparable non-government workers."

And here is a different bottom line.

Only five states do not allow collective bargaining for educators. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores: South Carolina, 50th; North Carolina, 49th; Georgia, 48th; Texas, 47th; Virginia, 44th. Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is 2nd.

Posted by: lensch | February 23, 2011 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Well, we know where Lane stands. Such palpable
anti-unionism ought have no place in the Washington Post. Fortunately Harold Meyerson skewers Lane elegantly in the same Post issue.

Posted by: ejmurphy414 | February 23, 2011 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Aren't you at least going to speculate about what Gabby Giffords would say about this if she could speak normally?

Posted by: tjtucker | February 23, 2011 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Yeah - same here, until the boss moved in
the bimbo for twice my salary and half my job...

....and got rid of me when he found out I didn't vote to suit him.

Go ahead -

stand up to them by yourself.

Posted by: dutchess2 | February 23, 2011 10:09 AM | Report abuse

This is the Koch brothers
's war on workers - waged by willing republican governors across the US...

That's why the teabaggers are in there protesting...

Koch brothers want the utiltiies that the Gov of Wisconsin will sell on a no bid contract...

....cause the Kock brothers reap billions and billions from the tax payers, while they denigrate them.

Don't buy anything they make, including Bounty paper towels.

Posted by: dutchess2 | February 23, 2011 10:12 AM | Report abuse

I'm still waiting for Charles Lane's apology for putting words into Gabby Gifford's mouth. Mr. Lane, have you no decency?

Posted by: kejia32 | February 23, 2011 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Anyone who is a member of a union or manages workers with union representation knows that the union leadership can not accept anything on behalf of the membership. It all must be voted on. The union leadership may or may not be sincere in their offer of concessions, but the Governor has good reason to assume that the concessions would not be placed into effect across the state. In fact, they may not be accepted anywhere in the state. But the offer of concessions does provide a good headline.

Posted by: gardedgarton | February 23, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse

We don't want new taxes to cover those collective bargaining rights either.

One reason to restrain the collective bargaining rights is because the unions use it to get the school teachers the union managed health insurance which is much more expensive then the alternatives.

So that is one way the unions take advantage of the right to abuse the tax payer.

Posted by: win1 | February 28, 2011 12:26 AM | Report abuse

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