Perhaps you've heard of the latest events regarding the recent budget proposal by our newly elected governor, Scott Walker? That proposal will affect my family, it will affect my friends, it will affect my neighbors, it will affect our local schools -- our entire way of life here in Wisconsin.
Walker's proposal targets the state and local public workers. This includes teachers, university employees, librarians, county and municipal employees -- they will take a deep cut in their benefits. The legislation calls for public workers pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6% of their healthcare coverage. More seriously, the legislation threatens collective bargaining rights of state workers. The governor is trying to quickly push his proposal through the Assembly and Senate and has given very little time for people to voice their concerns.
It isn't entirely the cuts in benefits or the loss of bargaining rights that worries me. It is the loss of Wisconsin as we know it. I'm especially concerned that the cuts and loss of bargaining rights will shatter the quality of our educational system. This all-out attack on public workers has already resulted in a decrease in morale in the state workforce. Just recently my daughter's class talked about bullies. This is one of the biggest bully tactics that I've ever witnessed. The governor is trying to balance the budget on the backs of middle class public workers and if the legislation doesn't pass, he has threatened to cut jobs.
The saddest part in my opinion -- he has demonized the state workers, a group of hard-working individuals that doesn't deserve all the negative energy directed at them in recent weeks by many their private worker counterparts. Honestly, the pitting the two workforces against each other is one of the most sickening political maneuvers I've ever seen. How will this solve any problems? Why can't Wisconsin residents move forward together as one to help balance this budget? Forward - that is our state motto, but it seems that we're on the verge to take a giant step backward.
The fight has made major news headlines around the nation and the world. What happens in Wisconsin will certainly have an effect on other states.
NYT - "Angry Demonstrations in Wisconsin as Cuts Loom"
The Guardian - "Wisconsin's Tea Party takeover"
The Washington Post - "Workers toppled a dictator in Egypt, but might be silenced in Wisconsin"
For a number of days thousands of demonstrators have marched at the Wisconsin Capitol and continue their fight even now. Schools have closed as teachers take sick days to attend the demonstrations; public workers have been bussed in to Madison from all over the state. The point of major contention is the loss of collective bargaining rights, a union-busting proposal. Ironically, Wisconsin was the first state to allow public employees to bargain collectively.
Government workers are not the enemy. How will stripping union rights help bring jobs to the state and solve a budget deficit? Undoubtedly, strikes will follow. And, as far as the benefits, these cuts will weaken our state economy. There is little doubt in my mind. The buying power for many families will lessen. Some families with both spouses working for the state will bear the burden to an almost unconscionable extent. Some of the lowest paid public workers, the LTEs, will lose their benefits completely. State workers have already felt the pain of the recession by weathering unpaid furloughs. Yes, private sector counterparts have taken a cut in pay with this recession, but as the economy recovers they will eventually get raises to make up for the cuts. In the public sector, the compensation gains are so slow that public workers will never rebound - and neither will public employee morale.