Will Wisconsin Protests Come to California?

Feb. 18, 2011


Today Wisconsin, tomorrow California? The battle between government-employee unions and state budgets was inevitable once the unions were given collective bargaining rights over the past 50 years.

The battle boiled over the past few days in Wisconsin as Republicans in the Legislature are attempting to repeal the state’s collective bargaining law for public-employee unions, along with requiring state workers to pay half their pension costs. As in California and most other states, the actions are prompted by declining budget revenues during the Great Recession and escalating public-employee pension and wage costs.

A vote on the matter has been boycotted by Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate. Republican Gov. Scott Walker even has ordered state troopers to track down senators who are avoiding the vote, prompting some senators to flee the Badger State. At least one Democrat is required to be present for a vote on the bill.

Union members have swarmed around the state capitol in Madison for “week of rage” protests against the proposed actions. The protests also are spreading to Ohio and other Midwestern states where last November Tea Party activists helped put in power reform-minded Republicans.

Collective bargaining is a key issue because it gives unions immense clout in negotiating with state and local governments. Unions and government employees insist that it is their right to organize and present a united front to the government.

The catch, though, is that they are the government. Collective bargaining in the private sector means that labor sits one side of the table and management, such as at GM or Ford, sits on the other side. That’s different from government, where the unions sit on the labor side of the table — but also, by electing pliant politicians to power in state houses, city councils and school boards, sits on the management side.

This was graphically illustrated last fall by the statement of a union leader. “This is our opportunity to elect our own bosses,” California School Employees Association Chapter 224 head Ronda Walen said about a said of an election concerning the San Juan Capistrano Unified School District. That means the unions — not the taxpayers — get to decide union pay, perks and pensions. No wonder California has a $25 billion budget deficit and effectively is bankrupt.

Obama involved

Despite this being a state matter, not a federal one, President Obama has butted in by backing the unions. Reported the Washington Post:

Obama accused Scott Walker, the state’s new Republican governor, of unleashing an “assault” on unions in pushing emergency legislation that would change future collective-bargaining agreements that affect most public employees, including teachers.

The president’s political machine worked in close coordination Thursday with state and national union officials to get thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals.

The national Democratic Party also is getting involved:

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.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson also has joined the state employee protests:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The Rev. Jesse Jackson has urged thousands of protesters in the Wisconsin Capitol to continue their stand against a sweeping anti-union bill that state Republicans are pushing.

Jackson made an unannounced appearance at the protests Friday afternoon. Protesters rushed to shake his hand or high-five him, and many shouted, “Thank you, Jesse.”

Jackson told the protesters they were fighting for a just cause. He told them to hold strong to their principles and continue fighting to kill the bill. Then he led the masses in a rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”

Yet, many ordinary citizens having difficulty paying high state taxes may find it difficult sympathizing with Wisconsin teachers whose average pay and benefits total more than $100,000 a year.

Some union backers have compared the Wisconsin protests to those in Egypt against the departed Mubarak regime. But the protests there were against the Egyptian government and its repression and robbing of ordinary citizens. In Wisconsin, the protests are by government workers who are well paid.

Coming to California?

In California, collective bargaining — letting government-union members “elect their own bosses” — was allowed when the Dills Act was passed in in 1978 and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown during his first term in the office. Brown since has defended his action. And unions played a crucial role in his election in November.

Brown won’t repeal the unions’ collective bargaining rights, as his Republican counterparts are trying to do back East in the states of the plains and prairies. But he faces the same problem they do: Declining revenues and rising union-worker costs.

Gov. Brown’s solution to the state’s $25 billion budget deficit has been $13 billion in spending cuts and $12 billion in tax increases. Republicans in the state Senate and Assembly, barely more than a third of the members in each house, have so far remained stalwart in refusing to join the majority Democrats in putting a tax-increase measure on the ballot in June.

Even if the measure ends up going to an election, it may not be passed by voters. Voters vetoed a tax-increase ballot measure just last November, and another one in 2009.

Moreover, even if a tax increases passes, it might not fill the hole in the budget. After all, a tax increase of $13 billion in 2009 didn’t prevent the current budget deficit.

Within weeks or months, Gov. Brown well could have to face down the unions that elected him, maybe sparking protests in Sacramento. Due to the mistakes of the Legislatures of the past decade, and former governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state just spends too much for the taxpayers to bear.

During the Davis-Schwarzenegger years, the unions had a rollicking good time, especially getting their members’ pensions spiked.

Unions across America, roused by President Obama and rabble-rousers like Jesse Jackson,  just don’t get it that there’s no more money. Protest as they might, high union pay, perks and pensions are going to have to be cut. Then cut again. Then cut yet again.

John Seiler is an analyst and researcher for CalWatchDog.com. His email: [email protected].


Write a comment
  1. Diana Shaw
    Diana Shaw 18 February, 2011, 17:06

    Your article leaves out some important information. Wisconsin workers are not protesting in unprecedented numbers about pay and benefits. They are protesting because their Governor is bent on busting their unions. He wants to take bargaining out of the equation. His bill is long term, and it isn’t about money. Secondly, unlike California, Wisconsin isn’t broke. The Governor found enough money to give tax breaks in an amount curiously similar to the amount he wants to cut from state workers payroll. It is a manufactured crisis, and working folks are fighting back – by peacefully demonstrating to protect their livlihoods as well as the well being of the state. Cutting jobs is not the way to create jobs. I say Hooray! for Wisconsin workers.

    Reply this comment
  2. Leslie Eastman
    Leslie Eastman 18 February, 2011, 20:32

    As the Media Director of the Southern California Tax Revolt Coalition, the San Diego area’s largest Tea Party group, I can say YES! The golden health benefits, platinum pensions, and other perks enjoyed by public sector employees that are way in excess of what private sector workers get for similar jobs cannot be sustained and will no longer be tolerated. There is a Tea Party event scheduled for Madison WI tomorrow — and I know Californians heading out to attend that event.

    And the “budget-busting theme” parroted by Diane above is nothing more than an obfuscation by union leadership wanted to protect their power. The key to the WI bill: it will require educators to contribute 5.8 percent to their pensions and 12.6 percent to their health care. Currently, educators pay 0.2 percent for their pensions and 4 to 6 percent of their health care costs. Still better than what 85% of the
    private sector workers who pay the taxes supporting the union thugs who are seemingly no longer on the job.

    Reply this comment
  3. David from Oceanside
    David from Oceanside 19 February, 2011, 06:30

    Diana Shaw must be reading direct from The Union Book Of Lies, Third Edition. The only thing she got right is that the Governor is busting the union.

    The tax breaks she mentions were given to business. What many on the left refuse to acknowledge is that business never pays any tax. They pass as much of the cost of the tax as the market will bear to the consumer. The rest is paid by the stockholders or the small business owner. If the small business owner or stockholders are unable or refuse to pay the tax, they close the business or mover out of state or overseas.

    When a government reduces business tax, they are promoting the expansion of existing business and the creation of new business. Both of these consequences are best for the citizens of the state.

    Government is sanctioned violence. Ultimately every tax comes with it the threat of a sheriff locking you in jail. Allowing union hacks to elect the politicians that set their wages with this money extracted by force from the third party taxpayer is immoral and as we now witness unsustainable. Eventually the unions and the politicians they support will kill the host.

    Reply this comment
  4. John Seiler
    John Seiler 19 February, 2011, 10:22

    David: Thank you.

    “If the small business owner or stockholders are unable or refuse to pay the tax, they close the business or mover out of state or overseas.”

    We sure have a lot of experience of that out here in Taxifornia, don’t we?

    Reply this comment
  5. JoeS
    JoeS 19 February, 2011, 10:44

    Wisconsin elected a government that represents the best interest of the people of Wisconsin. In California, the teachers unions have so thoroughly mis-educated an entire generation that they elected a government that will harm the best interest of the people.

    Only California is this stupid. How can people from the frozen upper midwest be smarter than the people living in paradise?

    Reply this comment
  6. JoeS
    JoeS 19 February, 2011, 10:46

    David: Please don’t confuse Diana, she went to a teachers union school.

    Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and Free Lunch are part of what they taught her.

    Reply this comment
  7. Roy Bleckert
    Roy Bleckert 19 February, 2011, 22:45

    “Unions across America, roused by President Obama and rabble-rousers like Jesse Jackson”

    When you are on the opposite side of those three above …. your likely on the Right Track LOLLLL !!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  8. Soquel by the Creek
    Soquel by the Creek 22 February, 2011, 12:11

    Of course the protests will come to California.

    Who are the top two political spenders in California politics, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC)? Must be those evil giant corporations, right? Or how about those evil Koch Brothers, right? WRONG!

    According a the March 2010, FPPC report “Big Money Talks: California’s Billion Dollar Club,” two PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS dominated California political spending–California Teachers Association (CTA) and California State Council of Service Employees (SEIU). Nearly all of that money goes to only one political party–the party with nearly a 2-to-1 majority in both houses of the California Legislature and the same party that holds every major California constitutional office. This same party that holds all the power refuses to take prudent action on pension reform. Why?

    See page 10, “The 15 That Spent $1 Billion to Influence California Voters and Public Officials.”

    1. California Teachers Association (CTA): $211.8 MILLION
    2. California State Council of Service Employees (SEIU) $107.5 MILLION
    3. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America $104.9 MILLION
    4. Morongo Band of Mission Indians $83.6 MILLION
    5. Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians $69.3 MILLION
    6. Pacific Gas & Electric Company $69.2 MILLION
    7. Chevron Corporation $66.3 MILLION
    8. AT&T Inc. $59.6 MILLION
    9. Philip Morris USA $50.8 MILLION
    10. Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians $49.1 MILLION
    11. Southern California Edison $43.4 MILLION
    12. California Hospital Association $43.3 MILLION
    13. California Chamber of Commerce $39.1 MILLION
    14. Western States Petroleum Association $35.2 MILLION
    15. Aera Energy LLC $34.7 MILLION

    Imagine what would happen if the person setting salaries for your company was taking kickbacks from the employees that he or she hired. How is the Democratic Party’s reliance on hefty union contributions any different? It’s a racket.

    Even Democratic Party heavyweights like Willie Brown and Bill Lockyer see the errors in the Party’s ways. Sadly, both these dire warnings are over a year old.

    Willie Brown: “But at some point, someone is going to have to get honest about the fact that 80 percent of the state, county and city budget deficits are due to employee costs.”

    Bill Lockyer: “It’s impossible for this Legislature to reform the pension system and if we don’t, we bankrupt the state.

    And I don’t think anybody can do it here BECAUSE OF WHO ELECTED YOU. You’re just captive of the current environment. I don’t see any way out.”
    [QUESTION: Who is the “who elected you”? Is it public-employee unions like the SEIU, teacher’s union, and the prison guard union?]

    Californians, please wake up. Like you, I don’t want to see hardworking teachers or fire fighters suffer. But I also don’t want to be enslaved by the state government to pay unsustainable pension benefits set during the Dot.Com economic bubble by SB400. There must be a reasonable middle ground. Unfortunately, most of our California Legislators are captives of their union funders and are incapable of independent thought or action. These Legislators don’t work for average California taxpayers. They work for the public sector unions.

    Reply this comment
  9. ggswede
    ggswede 22 February, 2011, 12:53

    Is it just me,or has our elected officials really addressed the issue concerning jobs ? The only thing I’ve heard from our capital ,is tax and cut,tax and cut !When they should be looking at why businesses refuse to stay or relocate to this state.Would the words ” right to work state ” Help ?

    Reply this comment
  10. Mutnodjmet
    Mutnodjmet 22 February, 2011, 13:06

    As promised, here is information on the first event related to WI that our Tea Party group has organized.


    Reply this comment
  11. Glen
    Glen 23 February, 2011, 07:54

    State workers did not cause the economic disaster that the country and individual states are now facing. Maybe the correct fix would be to go back to the villians that pocketed the millions of dollars and get it back. Maybe the Federal Government could repeal the 900 billion dollar tax cut for the top 2% of the wealthy and bail all of the states out of debt and still have an enormous amount of money left over. If California paid their state employees zero dollars it would not put much of a dent in their budget dilema!

    Reply this comment

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