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June 8, 2012

The End of Public Sector Unions?

Joe Charlebois

Finally, the public sector unions are being held accountable by their employers – the taxpayers. This week Wisconsin’s governor defeated Milwaukee’s mayor in a recall election that was based solely on policy differences.


The re-affirmation of the 2010 election of Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday signaled a defeat for public sector unions primarily and, to a lesser extent, the base of President Barack Obama’s re-election efforts.


Governor Walker (R), who faced Mayor Tom Barrett (D), was a rematch of the last gubernatorial election; but instead of a razor thin margin separating the two, Mr. Walker defeated his Democrat rival by a much larger margin of victory – 6.8%.


This may or may not be a bellwether for the upcoming presidential election, but what it does indicate is that – even in a state that is more labor friendly than most – hard choices by government officials that protect taxpayer dollars can succeed. This also should give other governors, who are wary of implementing similar restrictions on public-sector unions, a green light to curb out-of-control spending on government employees.


United States Sen. Ron Johnson (R., WI) was worried that if the recall was successful it would put the fear into future legislators that if they made fiscally responsible decisions it would lead to punishment through the recall process.


This recall was only the third in the history of the United States aimed at removing a sitting governor. It was the first to fail.


Governor Walker was not guilty of malfeasance or a crime; he was being subject to recall because he made the unpopular – to public sector union leadership – decision to rein in spending on their collective bargaining agreement. It was because of distinct policy disagreements that sent the universe of national union leadership to descend on the state capitol in Madison last year in protest. This, of course, led to the drive to setup this recall election in the first place.


Last year’s April 1st column on I wrote: “The ugly truth is that government employees, who are members of a public sector union, have their dues collected and distributed to elect like-minded bosses, who in turn reward these dues paying employees with generous pay and benefits. It has become a never ending cycle of corruption.


What public-sector union members fail to realize is that we – the taxpayers – are their true employers; we are the “stockholders.” We want public spending under control, especially when tax revenues are diminished by a weakening economy.


In this situation even though the government employees work for us, we have no ability to negotiate with them. This is where we need to elect strong leadership to take on the fiscal crisis and not those who would back down to the “mob mentality.”


What should be corrected from last year’s column is the fact that many of the public-sector union employees, who were subject to automatic payroll deduction to collect dues, may not have been of “like mind” as I had originally stated.


Since the legislation was passed, public sector union membership in Wisconsin has dropped precipitously. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 24 has noted a 2/3rd drop in membership, and the National Education Association (NEA) has seen 34,000 drop their membership which was over 62,000 before the “Walker Law.” Once the contract expires the employees are no longer forced to “participate” in the union. They now have the ability to determine if any of their paycheck will be taken by the union.


The exit polling showed that union employees favored Governor Walker in four of every 10 votes. That is substantial since the whole root of this recall was based in the dissatisfaction of the unions and the perceived attack on their very existence.


If, indeed, the American public is ready to hold its elected officials responsible to control costs and act an agent on our – the taxpayers – behalf, there may be hope for fiscal responsibility. This won’t happen, of course, unless clear communication and an ability to put forth an articulate message as to why controlling government largesse is in our best interests.


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