Last week I had three tests and a mock trial tournament that I had to attend to, so I was somewhat out of the loop, merely breezing past most headlines in my RSS reader and largely skipping the first section of the Wall Street Journal, opting to go straight for the Money & Investing section. What I did manage to see was about Libya and Egypt for the most part. I had heard a little about what’s happening in Wisconsin from the guys at BoingBoing and while their coverage was rather tilted, it was still informative.
I took some time today to read up on what’s been going on. Wisconsin has no money for its public sector unions and the union members don’t want to lose their awesome benefit packages, which is understandable, as they have negotiated a rather sweet deal for themselves.
The following video was brought to my attention by the folks at Reason and created by the Heritage Foundation.
Now, obviously it’s slightly biased as it is from Heritage, but I think that the union supporters were given a reasonably fair chance to make their points. I noticed a few things in the videos that made me snicker, like the repeated references to Nazi Germany, the “Care about educators like they care for your children” signs and the prevailing “Us vs. The World” mentality exhibited by the union supporters and members.
The simple truth is this: this is both a union-busting bill and a budget bill. Of course the governor wants to bust the unions; they’re horribly inefficient, expensive and powerful and to boot, their ideology is largely homogeneous, which is a problem come election time. That they are inefficient and expensive are a large part of the budget problem, and to help bring the budget into line, things must be done to cut spending, which includes cutting union expenses.
The governor doesn’t want to cut spending on the unions because he hates the union members, he’s doing it because he can’t afford to do anything else. If he doesn’t cut union expenses, then he’ll have to cut from other budgets, and no one wants to see reduced budgets for state highway maintenance or education or whatever else state governments do that most people actually like. (As a libertarian, I have trouble naming any state programs that I wouldn’t mind seeing cut, either marginally or in their entirety. Use your imagination for this bit if you don’t mind.)
I just don’t see why teachers and postal workers and the like need collective bargaining. I really don’t understand it. If a teacher can’t teach, why should they keep their job? What is it about working for the government that changes the broadest requirements for keeping one’s job: being able to do that job? Teachers are, as they claim, some of the most important people in societies; the information they give to kids effectively shapes the future. They might ought to get more money for what they do, and if we privatized the system, I’d wager that they actually would. The trade-off, though, is that they would have to produce results that justify that extra money, and they might not have a job if they’re bad enough.
Wisconsin public-sector union employees, you’ve just got to hold your breath and get through the next few years. The perk of working for the government is increased job security. The trade-off is reduced compensation. You can’t have both, and you risk additional reductions in compensation when your employer, the government, is having a bad year or decade, as it were, just as private non-union employees do. But at least you don’t have to be as worried about being fired. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, I’m sure you’ll be back at your original compensation levels or higher when revenues go back up.