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“Not Done Yet”: Wisconsin’s Gov Scott Walker Targets Collective Bargaining, Again

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) caused a massive uproar in 2011 when he and his Republican allies eliminated collective-bargaining rights for most state employees, most notably public school teachers. The policy, which Walker neglected to mention to voters before he was elected, positioned the Republican governor as one of the nation’s fiercest opponents of organized labor.

Indeed, Walker later admitted his tactics were intended to “divide and conquer” his opponents in Wisconsin unions.

Viewer Dave Wollert emailed us this week to let us know Walker isn’t quite done dividing and conquering.

Two-and-a-half years after mostly sparing police officers and firefighters, Gov. Scott Walker said this week he is open to the idea of limiting their ability to collectively bargain.

Such a move would undercut the few unions where he has found support. The unions for Milwaukee officers and firefighters, for example, were among those that endorsed Walker in 2010 and in the 2012 attempt to recall him from office.

After expressing his openness to the idea on Monday, Walker hedged a little on Tuesday, telling reporters he doesn’t have “a specific proposal” that he’s currently “pushing.”

And while that may be mildly comforting to firefighters who want to keep their collective-bargaining rights, it doesn’t change the fact that the Republican governor has an opportunity to take those rights away, and he’s clearly interested in doing just that. Indeed, in context, it’s worth keeping in mind that Walker conceded that the topic came up in legislative discussions — suggesting some state GOP policymakers may well pursue the policy.

In case anyone needs a reminder, Walker’s union-busting policy is, from a labor perspective, simply atrocious.

Under the law, known as Act 10, most public-sector unions can bargain over base wages but nothing else. That makes it impossible for the unions to negotiate over issues such as working conditions, overtime, health care, sick leave and vacation. In negotiations over wages, they can seek raises that are no greater than the rate of inflation.

They also face much tougher standards to achieve recognition from the state. For instance, in annual votes they must win 51% support from all workers eligible to be in the union, not just those voting…. Another aspect of Act 10 required public workers to pay more for their pensions and health care, effectively cutting their take-home pay.

And now the governor is open to applying the law to some of the only public employees in Wisconsin who weren’t punished under the 2011 bill.

As Scott Walker gears up for a national campaign in 2016, he appears to have positioned himself as the most anti-union Republican in recent memory.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 1, 2013

August 3, 2013 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Silence Them!”: Romney On Teachers And Their Unions

Mitt Romney has absolutely no problem with billionaires buying elections. In fact, had it not been for billionaires’ buying elections, he would not be the Republican nominee for president.

But Romney has a big, big problem with working people’s participating in the political process. Especially teachers.

America’s primary proponent of big money in politics now says that he wants to silence K-12 teachers who pool their resources in order to defend public education for kids whose parents might not be wealthy enough to pay the $39,000 a year it costs to send them to the elite Cranbrook Schools attended by young Willard Mitt.

“We simply can’t have a setting where the teachers unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interest of the kids. I think it’s a mistake,” the Republican nominee for president of 53 percent of the United States said during an appearance Tuesday with NBC’s Education Nation. “I think we’ve got to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns. It’s the wrong way for us to go.”

That’s rich.

So rich in irony, in fact, that it could be the most hypocritical statement uttered by a candidate who has had no trouble scaling the heights of hypocrisy.

If Romney wanted to get money out of politics altogether and replace the current crisis with a system where election campaigns were publicly funded, his comments might be taken seriously. But that’s not the case. Romney just wants “reforms” that silence individuals and organizations that do not share his antipathy for public education.

Romney is troubled that unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association voice political opinions. But he is not troubled by Bain capitalists’ pooling their resources in Super PACs and buying election results.

Indeed, if it had not been for massive spending by the lavishly funded Romney Super PAC “Restore Our Future” on Republican primary season attack ads—which poured tens of millions of dollars into the nasty work of destroying more popular rivals for the nomination.

When he was facing a withering assault by “Restore Our Future” in Iowa, Gingrich said Romney would “buy the election if he could.”

Romney could. And he did.

Never in the history of American presidential elections has so weak and dysfunctional a candidate as Romney been able to hold his own as a presidential contender solely because of the money donated by very wealthy individuals and corporations to the agencies that seek to elect him.

Yet he now attacks teachers who are merely seeking to assure that—in the face of frequently ridiculous and consistently ill-informed media coverage, brutal attacks by so-called “think tanks” and neglect even by Democratic politicians—the voices of supporters of public education are heard when voters are considering the future of public education.

Romney is the most consistently and aggressively anti-union candidate ever to be nominated for the presidency by a major American political party. His disdain for organized labor has been consistently and aggressively stated. He’s an enthusiastic backer of moves to bust public sector unions, he supports so-called “right-to-work” laws as a tool states can use to bust private-sector unions and he wants to do away with guarantees that workers on construction projects are fairly compensated and able to negotiate to keep job sites safe. The Republican platform on which Romney and Paul Ryan are running goes so far as to call for the “enactment of a National Right-to-Work law,” which would effectively undo more the seventy-five years of labor laws in this country.

That’s extremism in the defense not of liberty but of plutocracy. But there are points where Romney goes beyond extremism.

When it comes to the role of teacher unions, the Republican nominee’s royalist tendencies come to the fore. Unable to recognize the absolute absurdity of a nominee who would not be a nominee were it not for the support he has received from billionaires and millionaires seeking to prevent kindergarten teachers from pooling small donations to defend their schools, his message is the modern-day equivalent of the monarch of old sneering at the rabble and ordering his minions, Silence them!

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, September 26, 2012

September 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Partisan Morass”: Crippling The Right To Organize

Unless something changes in Washington, American workers will, on New Year’s Day, effectively lose their right to be represented by a union. Two of the five seats on the National Labor Relations Board, which protects collective bargaining, are vacant, and on Dec. 31, the term of Craig Becker, a labor lawyer whom President Obama named to the board last year through a recess appointment, will expire. Without a quorum, the Supreme Court ruled last year, the board cannot decide cases.

What would this mean?

Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers. Without the board to enforce labor law, most companies will not voluntarily deal with unions.

If this nightmare comes to pass, it will represent the culmination of three decades of Republican resistance to the board — an unwillingness to recognize the fundamental right of workers to band together, if they wish, to seek better pay and working conditions. But Mr. Obama is also partly to blame; in trying to install partisan stalwarts on the board, as his predecessors did, he is all but guaranteeing that the impasse will continue. On Wednesday, he announced his intention to nominate two pro-union lawyers to the board, though there is no realistic chance that either can gain Senate confirmation anytime soon.

For decades after its creation in 1935, the board was a relatively fair arbiter between labor and capital. It has protected workers’ right to organize by, among other things, overseeing elections that decide on union representation. Employers may not engage in unfair labor practices, like intimidating organizers and discriminating against union members. Unions are prohibited, too, from doing things like improperly pressuring workers to join.

The system began to run into trouble in the 1970s. Employers found loopholes that enabled them to delay the board’s administrative proceedings, sometimes for years. Reforms intended to speed up the board’s resolution of disputes have repeatedly foundered in Congress.

The precipitous decline of organized labor — principally a result of economic forces, not legal ones — cemented unions’ dependence on the board, despite its imperfections. Meanwhile, business interests, represented by an increasingly conservative Republican Party, became more assertive in fighting unions.

The board became dysfunctional. Traditionally, members were career civil servants or distinguished lawyers and academics from across the country. But starting in the Reagan era, the board’s composition began to tilt toward Washington insiders like former Congressional staff members and former lobbyists.

Starting with a compromise that allowed my confirmation in 1994, the board’s members and general counsel have been nominated in groups. In contrast to the old system, the new “batching” meant that nominees were named as a package acceptable to both parties. As a result, the board came to be filled with rigid ideologues. Some didn’t even have a background in labor law.

Under President George W. Bush, the board all but stopped using its discretion to obtain court orders against employers before the board’s own, convoluted, administrative process was completed — a power that, used fairly, is a crucial protection for workers. In 2007, in what has been called the September Massacre, the board issued rulings that made it easier for employers to block union organizing and harder for illegally fired employees to collect back pay. Democratic senators then blocked Mr. Bush from making recess appointments to the board, as President Bill Clinton had done. For 27 months, until March 2010, the board operated with only two members; in June 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that it needed at least three to issue decisions.

Under Mr. Obama, the board has begun to take enforcement more seriously, by pursuing the court orders that the board under Mr. Bush had abandoned. Sadly, though, the board has also been plagued by unnecessary controversy. In April, the acting general counsel issued a complaint over Boeing’s decision to build airplanes at a nonunion plant in South Carolina, following a dispute with Boeing machinists in Washington State. Although the complaint was dropped last week after the machinists reached a new contract agreement with Boeing, the controversy reignited Republican threats to cut financing for the board.

In my view, the complaint against Boeing was legally flawed, but the threats to cut the board’s budget represent unacceptable political interference. The shenanigans continue: last month, before the board tentatively approved new proposals that would expedite unionization elections, the sole Republican member threatened to resign, which would have again deprived the board of a quorum.

Mr. Obama needs to make this an election-year issue; if the board goes dark in January, he should draw attention to Congressional obstructionism during the campaign and defend the board’s role in protecting employees and employers. A new vision for labor-management cooperation must include not only a more powerful board, but also a less partisan one, with members who are independent and neutral experts. Otherwise, the partisan morass will continue, and American workers will suffer.

 

By: William B. Gould, Op_Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 16, 2011

December 18, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Election 2012 | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Teachers, Secretaries, And Social Workers: The New Welfare Moms?

Conservatives have had their sights on public-sector workers for a while and for good reason. Public-sector workers represent two favorite targets: organized labor and government. I am a public-sector employee and union member, so I can’t help but take these attacks and struggles personally. I am also a veteran of the welfare “reform” battles of the 1990s, and the debates over public-sector workers are strikingly similar.

Like welfare moms, public-sector workers have been painted as greedy [fill-in-the-blank barnyard animals], feeding from the public trough and targeted as the primary source of what’s wrong with government today.

Like 1990s welfare-reform debates, this one is dominated by more fiction than fact. For example, previous and recent research consistently shows public-sector workers actually earn less than private-sector workers with comparable skills and experience. While many, but not all, public-sector workers who work long enough for the public sector have a defined-benefit pension, the unfunded portions of those pensions are often due to bad state policy, not union negotiations.

In some states, like my own, Massachusetts, current workers are paying most of their pension costs through their own contributions into interest-bearing pension funds. Because state and local governments with defined pensions do not contribute to social security, there are currently cost savings. The upshot is that the cost of pensions may not be as high as some are arguing.

It is true that health-insurance costs for current retirees are expensive and worrisome. But this is because of the rising costs in private health insurance. Making workers pay more for their health-care benefits will erode the compensation base of public-sector workers, but it won’t get at the real problem of escalating health-care costs.

During the welfare debates, one of the arguments used to justify punitive legislative changes was spun around the fact that welfare moms who did get low-wage employment could also get child-care assistance—while other moms could not. Sound familiar? Public-sector workers do have employer-sponsored benefits many private-sector workers no longer get. But benefits haven’t improved in the public sector over the last 20 years; indeed most public-sector workers are paying more for the same benefits.

Over the same period, many private-sector workers have been stripped of their employer-provided benefits even as profits have soared. Instead of asking why corporate America is stripping middle-class workers of decent health-care coverage and retirement plans, the demand is to strip public-sector workers of theirs.

The new Cadillac-driving welfare queens are the handful of errant politicians who game the pension system and a few highly paid administrators getting handsome pensions. Sure they exist, but are hardly representative. The typical public-sector worker is a woman, most often working as a teacher, secretary or social worker. Women comprise 60% of all state and local workers (compared to their 47% representation in the private work force). And those three occupations make up 40% of the state and local work force.

Shaking down public-sector unions may make some feel better about solving government fiscal problems, but the end result will be more lousy jobs for educated and skilled workers. It will also not stem the red ink that is causing states to disinvest in much-needed human and physical infrastructure with budget cuts. But eroding wages and benefits combined with public-sector bashing will send a very loud market signal to the best and brightest currently thinking about becoming teachers, librarians, or social workers to do something else.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walter is leading the attack on public-sector workers today. In the 1990s it was another Wisconsin governor, Tommy Thompson, who was a leader in demanding and implementing punitive changes to his state’s welfare system. His plan became a model for the rest of the states and federal welfare legislation in 1996. Then there were horror stories and welfare bashing, but not much in the way of discussing the real issue of decent paying jobs that poor and low-income mothers on and off welfare needed to support their families. The main result of welfare reform was the growth in working-poor moms.

There is one important difference. Public-sector workers, unlike welfare moms, have unions and a cadre of supporters behind them.

By: Randy Albelda, CommonDreams.org, May 12, 2011

May 12, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Deficits, Economy, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Health Care, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Public Employees, Republicans, Social Security, State Legislatures, States, Teachers, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Women | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christian Economics” Meets The Anti-Union Movement

Gary North was nearly impossible to track down. He did not return multiple e-mails, and when finally reached by phone, he refused to talk and hung up.

But if you know where to look, he is everywhere.

Mr. North, a onetime aide to Representative Ron Paul of Texas, a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate, is the leading proponent of “Christian economics,” which applies biblical principles to economic issues and the free market.

Largely unknown to the broader public, Mr. North is an influential figure on the American far right. He has written dozens of books, blogs prolifically and is on the curriculum of Christian home-schoolers across America.

He may even have turned up among the antiunion protesters in Madison, Wis., this year.

Not literally, of course (and who would have recognized him if he had been there?). But Christian conservatism and free-market conservatism meet in Mr. North’s writings. A small but vigorous part of the conservative movement has absorbed his view that the Bible is opposed to organized labor, and especially to organized public employees.

“Not only do Reconstructionists believe that public employees should not have the right to organize, they believe that almost all of them should not be public employees,” writes Julie Ingersoll, of the University of North Florida, in the Web magazine Religion Dispatches. “Most of the tasks performed by those protesting the Wisconsin state budget would, in the biblical economics of North,” be privatized.

These “Reconstructionists” are believers in Christian Reconstructionism, the philosophy of R. J. Rushdoony, who died in 2001. According to Reconstructionism, a Christian theocracy under Old Testament law is the best form of government, and a radically libertarian one. Biblical law, they believe, presupposes total government decentralization, with the family and church providing order. Until that day comes, Reconstructionists believe the rights to home-school and to worship freely at least provide the barest conditions of liberty.

Mr. North, who is Mr. Rushdoony’s son-in-law but was not on speaking terms with him from 1981 until Mr. Rushdoony’s death, focuses on how that biblical libertarianism applies to economics. He concluded that the Bible forbids any welfare programs, is opposed to all inflation, and requires a gold-coin standard for money.

“God has cursed the earth,” Mr. North writes, alluding to the Book of Genesis in his 1973 book “Introduction to Christian Economics. “This is the starting point for all economic analysis. The earth no longer gives up her fruits automatically. Man must sweat to eat.” Mr. North writes that no form of government assistance “will escape the ethical limits” of the Apostle Paul’s dictum, in II Thessalonians, that “if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

And evidence that God would prefer gold money to paper can be found throughout the Old Testament, according to Mr. North. There are more than 350 references to gold in Strong’s famous Bible concordance, he writes. Gold is used in worship, godly wisdom is compared to gold and the Hebrew prophets used the debasement of metals as a metaphor for immorality.

Home-schoolers can download Mr. North’s economics textbook free from his Web site. And his thinking may have influenced Representative Paul, who briefly employed Mr. North as a speechwriter, working on monetary policy, in 1976.

Michael J. McVicar, who teaches at Ohio State and wrote a doctoral dissertation on Mr. Rushdoony, said Mr. North discovered Mr. Rushdoony’s writing as a young man in Southern California, shortly after he became, along with his parents, an evangelical Christian.

“He corresponded with Rushdoony and made this his livelihood: to generate some synthesis between biblical law and libertarian economics,” Mr. McVicar said. “Eventually Rushdoony took him under his wing and became a sort of surrogate father for North, who married one of Rushdoony’s daughters.”

The two men’s “spectacular break,” as Mr. McVicar calls it, split Reconstructionism into two camps. The break was partly over the kind of theological minutiae that would impress even a rabbinical scholar. In fact, one issue might pique the interest of real rabbinical scholars.

“It was about North’s interpretation of, of all things, Passover and the Israelites’ marking the doorposts with the blood of the lamb,” Mr. McVicar said. “North made this argument, that because of the doorpost’s structure, that this was an indication of hymenal blood from the marriage bed, and tied it into what Rushdoony called this ‘fertility cult’ mentality. And Rushdoony took a much more common-sense approach to the blood.

“The subtext is, it’s a father-son spat,” Mr. McVicar concluded.

The deeper one looks into the obsessions of Mr. North — who was born in 1942 and who as of 2007 lived in Horn Lake, Miss. — the harder it is to spot his influence in Wisconsin. The main themes of the Wisconsin budget battles were union influence, the distribution of wealth and the public fisc; Mr. North, by contrast, is associated with his own brand of far-right Presbyterianism, gun-owners’ rights, home-schooling and the gold standard for money.

Mr. McVicar believes that Professor Ingersoll’s attempted connection between Christian economics and the rallies in Madison is a bit tenuous. “Her insight has to be in my mind so heavily qualified as to make it almost nothing,” he said. But he concedes that it “has the most basic essence of truth,” given how widely Mr. North’s teachings have been disseminated on the Christian right.

Professor Ingersoll concedes it is difficult to prove direct connections between Mr. North’s writings and Wisconsin antiunion conservatism. On the other hand, Mr. North might like to think he has influenced the Wisconsin debate, and he has written in vociferous support of Gov. Scott Walker.

And, as Professor Ingersoll cautions, influence does not always announce itself:

“I like to say, ‘How many Christians know who is Augustine is, and how he influenced them?’ ”

By: Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times, April 29, 2011

May 1, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Liberatarians, Politics, Religion, Right Wing, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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