Wisconsin: Collective Bargaining Issue or Attempt to Destroy Unions’ Remaining Clout?

Ostensibly, the political battle in Wisconsin that inspired Democratic lawmakers to dramatically flee the state like Texas Democrats did in 2003 is over a bill that would in effect end collective bargaining for public workers. But some analysts in print and in the new and old media increasingly contend it’s part of a more evident political plan to try to short-circuit the clout of unions.

And, some contend, what happens in Wisconsin in the end could influence what happens in other states with Republican governors as well.

How people react to this issue depends on where they are coming from politically. Once again, a political battle takes on the aura of a bigtime, championship sports event where each (political) sports team is passionately cheered on by their supporters. But in this case it does seem like Republican Gov. Scott Walker is targeting a group that (can you guess?) didn’t support him during the election and in general is not Republican-friendly (other GOP Governor’s take note).

The likely outcome: the Dems are outnumbered are likely to lose this battle. But how about the “war”? In Wisconsin, at least, the unions could wind up with reduced power. But apart from that emboldening other Republican Governors who may also see a chance to take out a voting bloc, passions aroused among Democrats and union members transform 2012 into even a bigger battle royal than expected. Could this be an event that unites diverse parts of the Democratic part and gets many Dems out to the polls in 2012?

Here’s a cross section of news and weblog reporting and opinion(go to the link to read each report and opinion piece in full):

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel :
Amid the third straight day of chaotic but largely peaceful protests at the Capitol, D

emocratic senators Thursday boycotted a Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair plan, forcing Republicans to put off further action in that house until Friday at the earliest.

With Democrats hiding out just over the Illinois border and drawing national media attention, Republicans had too few lawmakers to take a vote Thursday and had to adjourn. With thousands of demonstrators swarming the Capitol Square, GOP lawmakers vowed to come back Friday morning to try to take up the proposal, which would help solve a state budget shortfall by cutting public employee benefits and most public union bargaining rights.

Democrats holed up in the Clock Tower Resort & Conference Center in Rockford, Ill., while Republicans said they wanted law enforcement to bring them to the Capitol if they were still in Wisconsin. Walker called for Democrats to call off their “stunt” and “show up and do the job they’re paid to do.”

“It’s either a matter of making reductions and making modest requests of our government employees or making massive layoffs at a time when we don’t need anyone else laid off,” Walker said.

Walker said that he had received more than 8,000 e-mails on the issue, with the majority of them backing his stance.

Democrats and union leaders said their concerns were focused on losing decades-old bargaining rights, not the financial concessions. In a telephone interview from an undisclosed location, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) said he was upholding the rights of workers by allowing for more debate on the bill.

“This is a watershed moment unlike any that we have experienced in our political lifetimes,” Miller said. “The people have shown that the government has gone too far?.?.?.? We are prepared to do what is necessary to make sure that this bill gets the consideration it needs.”

Several Democratic senators declined to comment on how long they’d stay away from the Capitol. Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) said late Thursday the decision on when to return had not been made yet.

The political drama played out amid a massive demonstration of union members that clogged the hallways of the Capitol and made the rotunda ring with chanted slogans as loud as the revving of a motorcycle engine.

The Politico’s Ben Smith:

The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.

OfA, as the campaign group is known, has been criticized at times for staying out of local issues like same-sex marraige, but it’s riding to the aide of the public sector unions who hoping to persuade some Republican legislators to oppose Walker’s plan. And while Obama may have his difference with teachers unions, OfA’s engagement with the fight — and Obama’s own clear stance against Walker — mean that he’s remaining loyal to key Democratic Party allies at what is, for them, a very dangerous moment.

OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.

The @OFA_WI twitter account has published 54 tweets promoting the rallies, which the group has also plugged on its blog.

“At a time when most folks are still struggling to get back on their feet, Gov. Walker has asked the state legislature to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Under his plan, park rangers, teachers, and prison guards would no longer be able to fight back if the new Republican majority tries to slash their health benefits or pensions,” OfA Wisconsin State Director Dan Grandone wrote supporters in an email. “But that’s not even the most shocking part: The governor has also put the state National Guard on alert in case of ‘labor unrest.’ We can’t — and won’t — let Scott Walker’s heavy-handed tactics scare us. This Tuesday and Wednesday, February 15th and 16th, volunteers will be attending rallies at the state.

TPM’s Brian Beutler, reporting from Washington:

Wisconsin’s new Republican governor has framed his assault on public worker’s collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times.

The reality is radically different. Unlike true austerity measures — service rollbacks, furloughs, and other temporary measures that cause pain but save money — rolling back worker’s bargaining rights by itself saves almost nothing on its own. But Walker’s doing it anyhow, to knock down a barrier and allow him to cut state employee benefits immediately.

Mad In Madison: Wisconsin Workers Protest Against Governor’s Budget Proposals
Furthermore, this broadside comes less than a month after the state’s fiscal bureau — the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office — concluded that Wisconsin isn’t even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.

“Walker was not forced into a budget repair bill by circumstances beyond he control,” says Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin Future — a public interest think tank. “He wanted a budget repair bill and forced it by pushing through tax cuts… so he could rush through these other changes.”

–Walker defends his budget proposal:

USA Today:
W

isconsin’s effort to cut public workers’ benefits and bargaining rights has quickly turned into a high-stakes national issue involving President Obama, congressional Republicans and other states.

Wisconsin is the first in a long line of states under Republican control that will consider requiring government workers to pay more for pensions and health care while limiting the power of employee unions to negotiate contracts and work rules.

Ohio is next, likely to vote within weeks on an equally dramatic limit on public employee rights. Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New Mexico are among the two dozen other states considering narrower but substantial changes in how government treats its workforce.

The moves are aimed at saving hundreds of millions of dollars and cutting the burden of pension and health care costs at a time when state and local government finances are weak.
“Wisconsin has become ground zero,” says Jonathan Williams, fiscal policy director of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of conservative state legislators. “What happens could serve as a domino, win or lose, in either direction.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, part of a wave of GOP governors and legislators elected in November, is the first to confront head-on public employee unions, a reliably Democratic voting bloc.

The Huffington Post:

Wisconsin is a stronghold of the labor movement — the birthplace of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the nation’s largest labor unions — with a long history of successful battles for workers’ rights. This is part of the reason the pushback to Walker’s bill has been so strong. It’s also why, if the bill does pass, the precedent it sets for other conservative governors looking to go after collective bargaining rights is so powerful.

“The attacks on public-sector public bargaining rights are extremely ferocious, and the outcome depends on the magnitude of the fight back,” Cornell Professor of Labor Relations Rebecca Givan said. “Other governors are closely watching.”

If the bill is passed, Givan said, wages will be frozen and benefits will be slashed. The one flexibility Walker’s bill offers for collective bargaining, the ability to bargain over wages, is, in Givan’s view, practically meaningless.

“They can bargain over wages but only up to the Consumer Price Index — that’s barely bargaining,” she said. “That’s just ‘we’re going to go for scraps.’”

The bill cannot be passed if there is not a single Democrat in the chamber. But even if one is rounded up, and the bill passes the senate, protesters won’t stop fighting.

When asked what would happen if the bill goes through, Phil Neuenfeldt, President of the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO, couldn’t say. “All I can do is say what the emotion is, what the feelings are,” he said. “There are thousands of good and committed people who are not going to let go of this thing. As far as what’s going to happen on Monday, I’m not sure. But I can tell you one thing: there’s going to be people reacting to this until it turns around.”

–Fox News report on Wisconsin events:
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–CNN report including an interview with one of the Democrats who is talking from an “undisclosed location”:
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--Hot Air’s Allahpundit:

“The people” haven’t done anything except elect a GOP majority. If they don’t like the new union laws, there’s an easy fix next election day, isn’t there? You know, reading all this, I’m thinking back to the “party of no” crap during Obama’s first two years and wondering how the media would have reacted if the GOP had decided to protest the Democratic agenda by not showing up to work anymore. Unlike this, that move wouldn’t have blocked any Senate business: It only takes 51 for a quorum so the Dems and their 60-seat majority could have safely proceeded on legislation. Yet the screeching about unserious Republican sore losers being incapable of governing, etc etc, would have been endless. And before anyone objects, no, today’s walkout isn’t the equivalent of a filibuster. Like it or not, the filibuster’s a mainstream tactic blessed by both parties when they pass the rules for the Senate at the start of the term and happily used by whichever side is in the minority. It’s business as usual, for better or worse. A walkout isn’t — although maybe it will be now. Is that the left’s goal in this? To turn fleeing the state into a legit American political tactic?

Crooks and Liars:

Update 3:20PM: Progressives are on the move now. OFA and DNC have both launched campaigns to bolster the Wisconsin protests. In addition to Wisconsin, a movement is also rising in Indiana and Ohio. Meanwhile, John Boehner completely misses the point (psst, Boehner, it’s about government overreach, doncha know?), Bold Progressives has published an open letter in solidarity, and Fox News is in full-tilt meltdown mode. I have some great video of Megyn Kelly just having fits over the nerve of those people, coming soon.

Tomorrow’s highlights will feature a noon rally in Madison featuring Richard Trumka as speaker, and there are rumors of walkouts all over the nation in solidarity with Wisconsin workers.

–Some of Michelle Malkin’s post including the headline:

Watch Wisconsin, Part IV: Salary info Big Labor doesn’t want you to see; statewide strike looms, teachers’ union recruits out-of-state protesters
By Michelle Malkin • February 17, 2011 06:06 PM

Wisconsin teacher salary facts:
“Teaching salaries in Wisconsin have increased since 2007. For example, the average teacher salary in Wisconsin in 2009 was $48,743, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is a 2.91 percent increase from 2008 in which the average teacher salary in Wisconsin was $47,365. The average teacher salary in Wisconsin increased by less than 1% from 2007-2008, but increased nearly 3% from 2008-2009.”
The average Wisconsin teacher salary in 2009-2010 was $52,644.

AFL-CIO Now Blog:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on middle-class workers and state employees’ b

argaining rights has nothing to do with a budget deficit and everything to do with paying back politicians who helped him get elected, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said today.

Appearing on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal,” Trumka said Walker’s actions, which have drawn massive public protests, are about “giving CEOs what they want and weakening unions.”

Taking away bargaining rights doesn’t do a single thing to help a budget deficit. When you have a union and collective bargaining you can work collectively to make those cuts so everyone understands and is educated about them. This is simply payback.

RedState:

Despite his feigning ignorance on the situation in Wisconsin, the President’s background is as a “community organizer,” working with groups like ACORN and the SEIU. As a community organizer, their modus operandi is to make it seem as though marches and protests are “popular uprisings” [yeah, Mubarek got pwned].

Because of this background, this should come as no surprise to you…

According to the DNC’s activist arm OFA, “Organizing for America is mobilizing on the ground in Wisconsin…”

That’s right. The Democrat National Committee’s Organizing for America (along with their union boss buddies) are helping to orchestrate the “uprising” in Madison.

[Perhaps that’s what Nancy Pelosi means by “astroturf.”

Wonkette:

As we all learned from Glenn Beck, the pro-democracy protests in the Middle East are hopping from country to country and establishing chalk-based caliphates across the world. Wisconsin is right next to Minnesota, the home of Muslim Keith Ellison, so obviously it’s happening there now too. Masses of protestors have been out on the streets and in the capitol building for days, and now Democratic legislators have decided to walk out on the vote to ban collective bargaining. Republicans, however, are planning on having the state police “round up” these Democrats and force them into the chamber. Unlike Hosni Mubarak, Teabagging Governor Scott Walker seems to have the control of both the military (National Guard) and (state) police. But what happens if he loses the police, who are unionized?

–MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell inteviews one of the Senator who has fled Wisconsin:

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