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  • Wisconsin: An Education in Special Interest Power

    Early yesterday morning, the Wisconsin assembly passed Governor Scott Walker’s (R) budget repair bill, which includes language requiring public employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to cover the cost of their pensions and pay 12 percent of their health insurance premiums. The measure also significantly limits collective bargaining for government employees, such as teachers.

    Although the measure has passed the assembly, it must still be passed in the Senate, where Democrats remain in hiding to avoid consideration of the bill. Charles Krauthammer dissects the stalemate in today’s Washington Post:

    Wisconsin is the epicenter. It began with economic issues. When Gov. Scott Walker proposed that state workers contribute more to their pension and health-care benefits, he started a revolution. Teachers called in sick. Schools closed. Demonstrators massed at the capitol. Democratic senators fled the state to paralyze the Legislature.

    Unfortunately for them, that telegenic faux-Cairo scene drew national attention to the dispute—and to the sweetheart deals the public-sector unions had negotiated for themselves for years. They were contributing a fifth of a penny on a dollar of wages to their pensions and one-fourth what private-sector workers pay for health insurance.

    How exactly have these public-sector unions managed to negotiate these sweetheart deals over the decades? On Tuesday, Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board released a telling report detailing expenditures of the top 10 lobbying groups in the state. According to the report, “the Wisconsin Education Association [WEA] spent $1.5 million in 2009 lobbying state lawmakers, nearly twice as much as the next-largest spender.”

    During the 2009–2010 legislative session, the WEA spent $1.5 million and more than 7,000 hours lobbying for more funding for local school districts, against school choice and charter options, against the creation of a tuition tax credit program, and against lifting the cap on virtual schools.

    This explains why the fight over collective bargaining—where negotiations are made between the unions and an employer (or this case the state government)—is critical to unions like the WEA. With public-sector unions such as the WEA, the union has a monopoly on the government’s workforce, because the government must agree to the terms negotiated by the union and cannot hire non-union workers. It gives the unions power to override the desires of the voters who elected lawmakers to represent them.

    And, by requiring teachers to join a union—which is the case in Wisconsin and in 28 other “forced unionism” states—the power of the union both in terms of size and money is inflated. Requiring teachers to join and automatically deducting union dues through teachers’ payroll also enables the union to amass the enormous funds that fuel their lobbying. Without this considerable power, the WEA—and special interest groups like them nationwide—would not be able to thwart education reforms that are in the best interests of students and teachers.

    Wisconsin is a microcosm for a larger problem with education unions. According to Mike Antonucci, who specializes in research on education unions, during the 2007–2008 election cycle, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers spent more than $71 million on campaigns for issues and candidates, or more than $100 per teacher in five states. These national unions receive their money from the dues of teachers forced to send money to their local affiliate, which then sends the funds to the state affiliate and then on to the national union.

    In addition to blocking meaningful education reforms such as school choice, education unions appear to be reckless with the dues money with which teachers entrust them.

    As many teachers faced layoffs, the United Federation of Teachers spent $1.4 million on their 50th anniversary gala last year. Union leaders also receive exorbitant salaries. NEA president Dennis Van Roekel received approximately $300,000, and NEA treasurer Rebecca Pringle received $321,000 in 2009. Several executive board members earned well over $200,000.

    But the benefits don’t end with compensation. In their Wall Street Journal piece “The Public Worker Gravy Train,” Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs note:

    Overall, our research suggests that government workers in California are compensated up to 30% more generously than are similar employees in large private firms. And the California experience is similar to that of other large states with powerful public unions. Elected officials are right to reassess public worker compensation as they try to close their budget deficits.

    The importance of the movement underway in Wisconsin cannot be overstated. These are long-overdue reforms to collective bargaining and union benefits, reforms that will help ensure the needs of students—not special interest groups—are met.

    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    14 Responses to Wisconsin: An Education in Special Interest Power

    1. West Texan says:

      I personally believe that anyone hired by government should be forced to pay dues to the National Rifle Association. As true defenders of freedom and firearm safety, they deserve the same consideration as workers' unions. Is this the American way? Absolutely not. So why are these Yankee protesters in Wisconsin marching on their capitol?

    2. Bob Jason, Englewood says:

      No one begrudges a worker trying to negotiate the best deal they can in regards to their employment but the problem arises when public and private sector unions become one issue orientated in regards to the party they support without regards to how the positions of that party on other issues affects the general population. Unfortunately, todays democratic party has taken positions on a host of other issues which have an adverse affect on the general population such as drilling for oil and border security to name a few. Thus these unions have a choice to either reform the democratic party from within or leave the party but this unhealthy symbiotic relationship between unions and the democratic party to the detriment of the rest of us can't be left to continue.

    3. James Vogan, Palm Coast, Fl says:

      In Wisconsin, are the “closed shop” laws part of their constitution? or are the Statutes? If they are legislative statutes why couldn’t the Republican Legislatures and Senators pass new laws allowing Wisconsin to be an “right to work” state? Or just outright outlaw public employee unions?

    4. Carol,AZ says:

      "Waiting for Superman," a requirement for all parnets.

      You will never think about education in America the same if you watch this well crafted film.

    5. dennis Georgia says:

      Gov. QWalker needs to take a leson from President Reagan, when the air traffic controllers went of strike, they had 2 choises, return to work or be fired. The teachers and other public employees need to have the same option. The teachers and others that called in sick as well as the so-called DR. need to be brought to court on fraud charges. They all collected wages under false terms.

    6. Don Harper, Lubbock, says:

      Even FDR admitted that public sector unions were wrong. It has taken 50 years for the damage to accumulate. Hopefully, it is now obvious to enough voters that the taxpayers can regain some of their power over these unions.

    7. Public Citizen - TRA says:

      I have been advocating that Governor Walker offer a bounty for the return of the A.W.O.L. senators.

      Just the threat of being publicly "perp-walked" should be enough to shake some of the missing congresscritters out of the woodwork.

    8. Bobbie says:

      For every broken state, you'll find a proud union.

      Government employees are pampered way too much having the unions and the President hold their hands as they've lost their ability to think for themselves because they're 'union strong" and don't have to. They take direction from their big daddy union thugs.

    9. Dwana Townsend says:

      Many Americans do not understand how much power Collective Bargaining Rights give the Unions. I think America needs an educations on how corrupt these Unions that are in bed with the government can be, and how our tax money is being used to prop up the Union heads.

      I believe Gov Walker needs to stick to his guns. Maybe the Unions can amend their powers and what they are allowed to bargain for.

    10. Leon Lundquist, Dura says:

      This corruption is hidious! Plain and simple payoffs, but even worse the Wisconsin and Indiana Congressmen are subverting Representational Democracy! That makes them Traitors against their Oaths to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution! Their acts of failing to Represent are High Crimes in the Constitutional sense. They should all be Impeached!

      Oh! And while you are at it, Impeach Obama for the Dictatorship he is creating in his Administration! That's a High Crime too!

    11. West Texan says:

      To Public Citizen, I was a temporary resident of California for job and school. I absolutely loved the countryside but the majority Kool-aid drinkers in charge ruined the experience. Marrying a California girl, we both managed to escape back to my Texas origins. It was a very good move.

    12. Kelley, Southern Cal says:

      We don't have the money!! There is a reason that the private sector doesn't offer the same kind of retirement and benfits packages. It is not sustainable! The unholy alliance between unions and govt workers needs to stop. Every local and state govt has huge unfunded lilabilities that are bearing down on the taxpayers.

      It's time to educate ourselves on how the budget process really works for all levels of our govt. The public sector unions are one part of the problem and only one part of the solution. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid all must be addressed as well and soon. We need to elect legislators that have the backbone and guts to start this fiscal revolution!

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    14. hal metzger, scottsd says:

      now that you have clearly exposed the cancer of the NEA and the local teacher's unions in our states, how do you disseminate that information to the general voting public? certainly, you will not get the press you need from the controlled media that disdains everything Walker is doing in wisconsin.

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