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The protests in Wisconsin remind us of issues that transcend unions, pensions and budgets. It is the often neglected principles of the rule of law and fairness. As former AFL-CIO president George Meany noted, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with government.”
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker put forth a sensible plan to deal with what he and fiscal reality derived as the drivers of Wisconsin’s ominous current $137 million budget shortfall and $3.6 billion gap over the next two years. Public-sector workers would be asked to contribute 12.6 percent towards the cost of healthcare premiums and allocate 5.8 percent of their pay towards their pension. How unreasonable and draconian.
In order to curb the influx of these exorbitant pensions in the foreseeable future, Governor Walker has proposed that collective bargaining over pensions and benefits be stripped from tool kits of public sector workers and unions (cops and firefighters are exempt). Wisconsin’s government would no longer be allowed to extract dues from employees on behalf of unions (what a novel concept). Negotiations over wages would be left intact.
Public sector collective bargaining is ostensibly corrupt and comes at expense of the public good. Public sector unions collect dues from government employees and then contribute monolithically to Democrat candidates. Who when elected, negotiate in conjunction with the unions for profligate pension and benefit packages paid for by the taxpayer. Later attempts at government reform of these pensions and benefits are met with indignation and union intransigence, also paid for by the taxpayer.
No matter your opinion of the process, it has proven to be fiscally unsustainable as some have estimated the total unfunded pension liabilities across America at $3 trillion.
Alas, this does not seem to matter as the protesters have thrown off the yoke of civility and declared these sensible reforms as akin to Nazism and gasp even Hosni Mubarak. President Obama, fresh off teaching us about tone and rhetoric has denounced these reforms as an “assault on unions”. Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature have fled the state, in an effort to thwart the Governor and in turn the will of Wisconsin’s citizens. How ironic that the party that draws its name from democracy, is doing all it can to stymie it.
As long as the process of collective bargaining of rent-seeking public sector unions is upheld, the more the rule of law is effaced, the concept of fairness eroded and the formation of entitled classes go on in perpetuity. Still, judging from Wisconsin protesters, it seems the sense of entitlement lingers long after it ceases to make any sense.