Wisconsin, we have a problem, public employee unions
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Wisconsin, we have a problem, public employee unions

March 1, 2011, 6:22 pm
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Unions have been rendered redunant by the very laws they helped to enact
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By Reynold N. Mason JD

            Atlanta, Mar. 01 2011.    Last year Wisconsinites swept Governor Scott Walker into the governor’s mansion. They did so because he promised to bring the state budget into balance. Wisconsin is running a deficit of $130 million projected for this year alone.

            As part of his fiscal discipline Wisconsin’s new governor is pushing a bill aimed at corralling the runaway public employee unions. The bill which last week, passed the Wisconsin house, would eliminate most collective bargaining rights, require workers to contribute to their pensions and health insurance more than they now pay under their collective bargaining agreement with the state; eliminate  automatic deduction of union dues, and future collective bargaining agreements would be limited to one year. In addition, the law requires union members to vote each year to "recertify" bargaining units. Should the bill get Senate approved, $30 million in savings would be achieved by July 1st and $300 million over the next two years. Wisconsin is staring at a budget shortfall of $3.6 billion.

            Democratic Senators lacked the numbers to block the bill, so they packed their bags and fled the state. They sought political asylum in the home state of President Obama, Illinois. Their absence from the floor of the Senate denies the republicans the quorum needed to move forward with the vote. Public Sentiment toward unions has undergone a transformation over the last decade. Unions have seen declining membership. It is becoming more and more evident that unions are at odds with the general taxpaying citizens of the State, who foot the bill for their pensions and other benefits. They are at war with the common good, not with some greedy, money grabbing, capitalist conglomerate.

            When the going got tough the democrats got going. They are still gone. How long they intend to persist in this crass dereliction of the duty they were elected to carry out is anyone’s guess. Sad to say, the virus is spreading. Ohio and Indiana legislators hit the road as well, their object; hinder the passage of common sense fiscal measures. If they can’t have their way, they’ll take their bat and leave. They will not play ball unless they dictate the rules of the game. What these “flee baggers” fail to note, is that the people have spoken. “We the people” are their bosses, and they are our public servants, there to do our bidding until we say otherwise at the next election. These “flee baggers” need to get back to work and do the job we pay them to do. I don’t know of any employee who survived long enough to have any seniority by defying his boss. That is precisely what these democrats are doing.

            When we put democrats in charge, they run the place into the ditch. Now, the State house is under new management, and they have only just begun to clean up the profligate spending mess bequeathed to them. Why would democrats go to such extreme on behalf of public employee unions? The facts are crystal clear. Wisconsin is bankrupt. It must cut costs just like any other growing concern. That means the over-compensated government employees must be brought to account. A course correction is long overdue. But the democrats lacked the political will to make the tough choices. Why put their $millions from the union lobby at risk?

Governor Walker is not alone. Tennessee, Ohio, Kansas, Indiana, Idaho, and Iowa are considering like measures to reign in public employee unions. Every dime spent on a teacher’s union means ten cents less for students. To really understand the undercurrent driving these protests, keep in mind that many millions of dollars of union members’ dues have been spent to fuel the Democratic Party in past elections.

 The AFL-CIO, whose president Richard Trumka is orchestrating much of the protests in Madison this week, donated $1.2 million to Democrats in 2008 and $900,000 in 2010.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees donated $2.6 million to the Democrats in 2008 and another $2.6 million in 2010.

The National Education Association donated $2.3 million to Democrats in 2008 and $2.2 million in 2010.

The Teamsters union donated $2.4 million to Democrats in 2008 and $2.3 million in 2010.

The SEIU donated $2.6 million to Democrats in 2008 and $1.7 million in 2010, and on and on the list goes. (See:  http://dailycaller.com/2011/02/19/unions-fuel-democratic-party-financially/)  Dues deducted from employees paychecks are essentially laundered through public employee unions and then channeled to democratic candidates. The taxpaying public has finally awakened to alarm bells sounding everywhere. The democrats have emptied the treasury vault and now they have fled to escape their reckoning.

The first face-to-face meeting between Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, one of the first governors to stand up to unions, and the president of the state’s powerful teachers’ union ended in acrimony. There was even a memo with a wish for the governor’s death. Iowa governor, Terry Barnstead, says a contract that grants government employees 15 percent raises and free health care is squeezing taxpayers. These contracts have limited states’ ability to respond to the fallout from the economic downturn. “The death grip that the public-employee unions have had on the process in many states and sometimes nationally is a very big part of the deficit and debt problem that we’re facing at both levels,” says Indiana governor, Mitch Daniels. Raises and free health care is squeezing taxpayers.

The concept of unions as a protector of abused employees is a thing of the past. They may have a place in some industries, but government work isn’t one of them. Paying campaign expenses and then sitting down at the negotiating table with your candidate to negotiate a union contract is a farce. The practice should be a crime. The bigger felony is that unions do not have the interest of taxpayers at heart. When Governor Christie met with the teachers’  union and suggested  it waive dues for a year, the reply was a resounding “NO.” And in the next breath came the suggestion “raise taxes”. Tax and spend.

The demise of Michelle Rhee is a classic case of union vengeance. While praises were heaped upon this stellar administrator for making the failing D.C schools better, the unions were organizing to get her and the Mayor who appointed her, because she fired bad teachers. Unions defeated Mayor Fenny, and Michelle Rhee moved on. A giant step backwards for the D.C’s failing schools public schools.

            This is D day for the unions. They have mobilized the troops in all 50 states to protest The audacity of taxpayers who want their fiscal house in order. Labor unions long ago lost sight of their mission. They have been rendered redundant. The proliferation of labor laws enacted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have had the effect of the polio vaccine. So effective have they been, and so solicitous of worker rights, that the plague of worker exploitation, low pay and poor working conditions have gone the way of polio. The vaccine developed to fight those conditions, unions, has now been rendered redundant by very the plethora of legislation to which it gave birth. There is bereavement leave, the Family Medical Leave (FMLA) which allows leave for an adoption, maternity, and paternity; there is a leave of absence, paid holidays, and vacation benefits. If a member is laid off there is unemployment insurance and, worker’s compensation if a worker is injured on the job. The rules are all encompassing; not a nook of the employer- employee relationship escapes the broad sweep of the union’s protective compass. Even breaks, paid overtime, rest time, smoke time, lunch breaks, bathroom breaks are regulated and circumscribed. And shop stewards are ever present to school the uninitiated in the proper application of the rules for maximum effect. The job of the public employee union is done. It is time they pack up their bullhorns and leave. The gravy train has come to the final stop; Bankruptcy Station.  All unions off please.

Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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