Published February 21, 2011
The battle raging in Wisconsin has huge implications for all American taxpayers, who will be forced to shoulder the burden of out of control government spending at the state, local and federal level. The bosses -- either from the union or the Democratic Party -- who depend on a steady flow of union dues into their political coffers are desperate because they understand the stakes.
So, too, must taxpayers.
This fight will decide whether union bosses can bleed taxpayers dry no matter what happens in elections, or whether electing limited-government conservatives can result in meaningful change.
Union membership is in free-fall in the private economy. In 2010, private sector union membership reached 6.9 percent, a record low. That means 93.1 percent of workers in the private economy are not union members – a higher level than when FDR signed the Wagner Act into law in 1935. It makes sense, because workers have seen unions cripple industries like autos, steel and airlines. They’ve seen union bosses make such outrageous demands that companies end up in bankruptcy and workers lose their jobs. Most workers would simply prefer to negotiate their own salary and benefits than to let union bosses destroy more companies and industries.
The government sector is different, and it’s the union bosses’ last stand. There are now more government workers in unions than private workers: 7.6 million to 7.1 million. And government unions can keep making demands without a real risk of putting local, state or federal governments out of business (although some are now teetering on the brink of bankruptcy) because governments have a taxation power to force citizens to cover the cost of union demands.
Government unions are a relatively new phenomenon, and were created not because they served a legitimate economic or social purpose, but out of cynical political considerations. This began in the 1950s when New York Mayor Robert Wagner issued an executive order unionizing city employees to create a new constituency for his re-election. Traditionally, union organizers oppose government unions because they were concerned that their industrial union workers would be forced to pay higher taxes if civil servants were able to artificially force an increase in their compensation.
Over time, the Democratic Party, and especially its big city machines, became utterly dependent on the dues and manpower of government unions for their political organizing. A vicious cycle developed in which taxpayer dollars flowed in ever larger amounts to salaries, wages and benefits of government workers – who were forced to send a portion to the union bosses -- which was funneled back into political organizing in exchange for more unsustainable increases in spending.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is courageously taking on the machines to break this cycle. His eminently reasonable Budget Repair Bill asks government workers to pay 5.8 percent of their salary to cover half the cost of their pension. It asks them to pay 12.4 percent of their own health care premiums – about half the national average. But what has the Democratic senators fleeing the state and the Democratic National Committee pouring in resources is that Walker’s plan strictly limits collective bargaining to salary increases that are less than the consumer price index, gives workers an annual secret-ballot vote on keeping the union, and allows workers to choose – rather than be forced – to pay union dues.
If Walker can be derailed despite the fact the people of Wisconsin elected him as well as Republican majorities in both the Assembly and Senate precisely to rein in out of control spending, the message will be that government unions and their Democratic allies are above the law. That senators can flee the state instead of doing their jobs and be rewarded for it. That the president and his political organizers can come into a state and disrupt its legitimate legislative process.
The stakes are simply too high to allow that to happen. States and cities all over the country are straining under the weight of government unions, as is the federal government. We must get government spending under control now, before we reach a genuine Greece-like crisis point. We are all Wisconsinites now, and we must stand with Scott Walker.
Phil Kerpen is vice president of policy for Americans for Prosperity, which is supporting Scott Walker at www.StandWithWalker.com.