Welcome to the reckoning. We have met the fiscal apocalypse, and it is smack dab in the middle of the heartland. As Wisconsin goes, so goes the nation. Let us pray it does not go the way of the decrepit welfare states of the European Union.
The lowdown: State-government workers in the Badger State pay piddling amounts for generous taxpayer-subsidized health benefits. Faced with a $3.6 billion budget hole and a state constitutional ban on running a deficit, new Republican governor Scott Walker wants public unions to pony up a little more. He has proposed raising the public-employee share of health-insurance premiums from less than 5 percent to 12.4 percent. He is also pushing for state workers to cover half of their pension contributions. To spare taxpayers the soaring costs of byzantine union-negotiated work rules, he would rein in Big Labor’s collective-bargaining power to cover only wages unless approved at the ballot box.
As the free-market MacIver Institute in Wisconsin points out, the benefits concessions Walker is asking public-union workers to make would still maintain their health-insurance-contribution rates at the second-lowest among Midwest states for family coverage. Moreover, a new analysis by benefits think tank HCTrends shows that the new rate “would also be less than the employee contributions required at 85 percent of large Milwaukee area employers.”
This modest call for shared sacrifice has triggered the wrath of the White House–Big Labor–Michael Moore axis. On Thursday, President Obama lamented the “assault on unions.” AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union bosses dubbed Walker the “Mubarak of the Midwest” while their minions toted posters of Walker’s face superimposed on Hitler’s. Moore goaded thousands of striking union protesters to “shut down” the “new Cairo” while the state’s Democratic legislators bailed on floor debate over the union reform package.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan spurned the opportunity to condemn thousands of Wisconsin public-school teachers for lying about being “sick” and shutting down at least eight school districts across the state to attend capitol protests (many of whom dragged their students on a social-justice field trip with them). Instead, Duncan defended teachers for “doing probably the most important work in society.” Only striking government teachers could win federal praise for not doing their jobs.
Yes, the so-called progressives truly believe that bringing American union workers into the 21st century in line with the rest of the workforce is tantamount to dictatorship.
Yes, the so-called progressives truly believe that by walking off their jobs and out of their classrooms, they are “putting children first.”
If ever there were proof that public unions no longer work in the public interest, this is it. Big Labor dragoons workers into exclusive representation agreements, forces them to pay compulsory dues that fatten Democratic political coffers, and then has the chutzpah to cast itself as an Egyptian-style “freedom” and “human rights” movement.
Meanwhile, union leaders elsewhere are quietly forcing their low-wage members to share the sacrifice in order to preserve teetering health funds. In New York State, Skidmore College campus janitors, dining-service workers, and other maintenance employees received late notice from the SEIU that 4.15 percent of their gross earnings will now be deducted from their paychecks to cover the cost of the health plan provided through the behemoth 1199 SEIU Greater New York Benefit Fund. (If the name sounds familiar, it’s because this is one of several privileged SEIU affiliates that have received an Obamacare waiver.)
These workers are forced to join the union in order to preserve their jobs, and unlike non-union workers, they are locked into a single health plan. The SEIU has now decreed that they must pay new fees to include spouses on their plans and has hiked employee co-pays for doctor visits and prescription drugs.
What’s necessary for New York union workers is necessary for Wisconsin union workers — and for the rest of the protected union-worker class in bankrupt and near-bankrupt states across America. The “persuasion of power” so ruthlessly and recklessly exercised by the SEIU and its thuggish allies must be broken by the moral courage of fiscal discipline. It’s now or never.