Wisconsin fight points to a tipping point with public-sector unions

There was a time when it took a fence rail and a washtub full of feathers to get politicians out of the state, but it seems our Midwest friends have devised an easier way: Try and get them to do their job when it involves voting against their special-interest groups.

Democrat lawmakers in Wisconsin have scattered like frightened lemmings at the prospect of having to be present when the newly elected governor and now-Republican-dominated Legislature do what they had been campaigning on for the last year and a half; balancing the budget, reining in the growth and expense of government and lowering the price tag for public-sector unions.

On Tuesday, Democratic legislators from Indiana scampered away as well, for much the same reasons. It was reported both groups were headed to Illinois, where we hope they spend some time in Chicago, which now has a population at 1920s levels after years of political cronyism and the relentless churning of the Democrats’ political machine. Of course, while it appears scores of Chicago voters have voted with their feet, many are still safely ensconced below ground, preventing their exodus.

The sight of a couple of acres of public-financed protest has been quite a wake-up call for the rest of the country as it watches Wisconsin public-employee unions at their Little Bighorn — essentially demonstrating against voters who had elected officials to bring the state back to reality.

The scene drives home the fears of liberal icon President Franklin Roosevelt, who in 1937 made clear his opposition to public-sector unions by saying: “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into public service.”

The problem with public-sector unions existing as a collective-bargaining unit is that the ultimate weapon of any collective-bargaining group is to strike, which in this situation places individuals, often called public servants, in the position of attempting to punish the public until their demands are met. Roosevelt commented on this when he said that such an action “… looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.”

Ignoring warnings that even President Roosevelt voiced, we have pushed into territory that places public unions at an entirely different level than any other labor group. In states without right-to-work laws — and where unions require employers to deduct dues from workers paychecks — these dues, after they have paid salariies of the union bureaucracy, are placed into enormous political war chests. They are used to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns to elect politicians who use tax dollars to negotiate contracts with the very unions that helped place them into office.

In the case of states like Wisconsin, where many of the protesters and their fellow travelers are involved with education unions, the irony is both troubling and sad. Consider that, while these “protesters” shut down school districts and take time off from teaching, the federal Department of Education has found that two-thirds of Wisconsin public school eighth graders cannot read at an appropriate level. To add insult to injury, the state pays the highest per-student cost for education in the Midwest.

Sacrificing precious tax dollars to reward and continue the support of political backers is an old problem. But in the case of public unions, their massive support helps place what is, in effect, a representative for them on each side of the bargaining table and encourages continued hiring to what is essentially a support-and-contribution collection machine.

In 2007, then-Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter allowed for unionization of public employees and establishment of “partnerships” that, while not technically collective bargaining, are a wink and a nod away. A few changes in the Legislature and formal collective bargaining probably will arrive.

It is also probably coincidental that between February of 2008 and July of 2010, the private sector in Colorado lost approximately 160,000 jobs while the public sector added almost 10,000.

Remember, there is a tipping point, where the combination of taxpayer-funded employees and entitlement recipients sufficiently outnumber income producers and taxpayers so that there is no going back — short of a tremendous financial upheaval.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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