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I Double Dog Dare You!

As long as we’re talking about Wisconsin (the home state of the dreamy Russ “Everything’s” Feingold), pay attention to Madison. And now Milwaukee.

Most of my six readers are probably already aware of the current situation in the Wisconsin state capital, and, in fact, I’m thrilled to say that one of my six readers went to Madison to feast on the democracy being served up there. Reports are that it was delicious.

In short: the governor is doing many harsh things with his budget. The thing causing the most uproar is an issue that has almost nothing to do with any short-term budget problems whatsoever: he’s trying to deny public sector workers the right to collectively bargain their contracts in the future. It’s just an assault on what little labor movement we have left in this country. Well, fuck that, say the teachers (and other public employees).

Some people look at the benefits and pensions of state employees and ask, “Why should they get such great benefits?” The more appropriate question should be, “Why don’t we all get such great benefits?”

But putting that aside for a moment, let’s acknowledge the chutzpah of a few Wisconsin Democrats. These aren’t the feckless weenies B&E readers are used to seeing from their Democratic Party. No, sir. These Democratic State Senators left Wisconsin (a spokesman said he didn’t know where they were but that he suspected they hadn’t left the hemisphere) to keep the State Senate from having a quorum. Without a quorum, the vote can’t happen.

So today, on the friendly Fox News channel, Governor Scott Walker actually said the words, “I’m daring them to come back…” Oh, shit! No, he didn’t! He fucking dared them! Hold tight, Democrats! Don’t give in until he breaks out the big guns: the double-dog dare!

Meanwhile, the good people of Wisconsin are hitting the streets, and with the capitol building in Madison staying open for business, just in case the missing Democrats return, protesters are spending the night there.

Schools have been closed in Madison since Wednesday. In Friday, the schools were also closed in Milwaukee.

This is a situation worth keeping an eye on. It is, after all, the first of what will almost certainly be battles all around the country having to do with Republican state houses eviscerating unions. And some Democrats, too, for that matter. Here in New York, Andrew Cuomo is making some unpleasant noises about doing the same thing.

Unions gave us weekends, the eight-hour workday, and a robust middle class. As the labor movement has died out, so has the middle class. People, this is not a coincidence.

Fight on, Wisconsinites. And if my Badger State reader would like to guest post about this on B&E, I would happily give her the platform. She’s not bald, but she is effective. Short & Effective. Claim the domain, S&E!

5 comments on “I Double Dog Dare You!

  1. This Queens reader would like to claim legal right to Short & Effective. Your intrepid WI reader can be Cute & Effective, or Wise & Effective, or Highly Skilled & Effective. I didn’t stand at City Hall for many hours over four trips while hugely pregnant to change my name for this sort of treatment.

  2. You raise an interesting point, Hil.

  3. I’m not attached to short and effective. Glamorous and Effective also works. Pissed and Effective is appropriate. I understand blonde and effective is taken, which is fine because it’s really just comic-book superhero bottle blonde streaks anyway.

    The overreach of our undereducated governor and his patrons, the evil coal mining lumber lords the Koch brothers, is doing nothing short of restarting the Union movement in Wisconsin and nationally. Never, ever in my lifetime have I seen a group of Wisconsinites care to remember why unions were important in the first place and organize and protest. Once everyone had fair wages and humane working conditions, equity began to feel like the norm, like unions were outdated dinosaurs drunk with power. When the robber baron overlords of industry came right out and showed us who they are this week, we were slapped awake. This really is the fat guy in the top hat on the cover of Monopoly versus my mother the 62-year old union worker who has twice negotiated PAY CUTS since 2008 in exchange for her pension and health care benefits to remain intact. Her greed, her unmitigated greed to keep earning in the low $20,000s after 30 years of service is ruining the state – really? She is better off than people in the private sector? Like who, exactly? Scott Walker, just last month, gave a tax cut to the rich of this state to the tune of 140 million, and now we have a supposed shortfall of 137 million. And my Mom is so greedy and dangerous that Walker has threatened to call in the National Guard.

    And yes, these are not the feckless weenies of yesteryear, these dems. They are badasses, and I love them. The governor proposed a budget about which he refused to negotiate. Normally the budget is discussed and debated with public testimony for four to six months. This time, nothing. If you don’t negotiate with us, we walk. It is fundamental to how Wisconsin works, to how labor works, to democracy. Deprived of the right to talk, they walked the walk.

    In Solidarity,

    Indignant and Effective in Wisconsin.

  4. In other words:

    Why should I care about Governor Walker’s “Budget Repair Bill”?
    A tutorial on the contents and impact of Wisconsin Assembly Bill 11

    Everyone else has to sacrifice. Why shouldn’t government workers?
    The leader of Wisconsin’s public sector union has told Wisconsin governor Scott Walker that employees are willing to accept significant reductions in pay and benefits, but the governor insists that employees take what he has offered without negotiations, and that workers give up rights to bargain in the future. Even though the “budget repair bill” would result in serious losses in take-home pay for all public workers, there is a willingness to sacrifice. The public sector unions are opposing the elimination of bargaining rights.

    Like Walker says, if the state doesn’t have anything to offer, why should it bargain?
    Whether the state has something to offer is a debatable point in its own right. Regardless, bargaining gives employees a say in how they sacrifice. It gives them an opportunity to negotiate no change in health insurance contributions if they are willing live with insurance that requires more deductibles or co-pays, or keep pay the same if they are willing to pay more for health insurance. Or negotiate bigger wage cuts for higher paid positions to lessen the impact on employees who make less and are more vulnerable. The ability to bargain does not mean that unionized employees get what they want. Wisconsin’s public sector labor laws, which have worked well for nearly 50 years, allow each party to negotiate. If they can’t reach an agreement, an independent arbitrator decides which offer is more fair by comparing the offers to other government wage and benefit packages and private employee wages and benefits, looking at whether either side has previously sacrificed one benefit to preserve another, and the effect of each offer on taxpayers. The current statute requires arbitrators to give the MOST consideration to the government employer’s revenue and the local economy when choosing between the offers. About 60% of the time in the last decade, arbitrators selected the government’s final offer over the employees’ final offer. Wisconsin public employees have no right to strike over their demands.

    But even if the current state finances would make a mutually agreeable settlement impossible, the governor’s bill also takes away the right of city and county employees to bargain, regardless of the finances in their city or county. It takes away all public employees’ rights to bargain in the future, regardless of future economic conditions. The bill also restricts city and county governments’ abilities to manage their workforce by limiting the pay and benefits that they can provide, by capping the amount that cities and counties can contribute to health insurance or pension, and capping the pay raises they can agree to. For example, a county with a higher cost of living than average will be prohibited from offering enhanced pay or benefits. A remote town that has difficulty attracting people to certain positions will have little ability to offer wage or benefit incentives to attract and keep employees.

    I work in the private sector and I don’t belong to a union. I don’t have any bargaining rights, so why should I care about public workers’ bargaining rights?
    Actually, you do have bargaining rights. All employees in the private sector are protected by a federal law that protects your right to join a union or not join a union. And regardless of whether you have a union in your workplace, the federal law protects your right to get together with a few other co-workers, go to the boss, and say, “Your competitor pays his employees more. We’d like our wages to be more competitive,” or “Could you consider adding a 401k program,” or “That back stairwell has poor lighting and slippery floors. Can we do something to make it a little safer?” Because of the existing federal law, you can’t be fired for doing any of those things. The forces that are supporting Scott Walker behind the scenes have an agenda that starts with Wisconsin, moves to other states, and ultimately includes eliminating protections for all workers, public and private sector.

    I’m a free agent, and I’d like to own a small business. I really think life would be easier without any worker protections.
    On to healthcare. The “Budget Repair Bill” removes the legislature from the process of making changes to BadgerCare, SeniorCare and Medicaid. The bill directs the the Department of Health Services (DHS) to review these three programs to find ways to make them more efficient and less expensive. The governor appoints the director of the DHS, and the DHS answers directly to the governor, not the legislature. Any changes recommended by DHS only have to be review by the Joint Committee on Finance and approved by the governor. NO LEGISLATIVE VOTE IS REQUIRED. The Joint Committee on Finance is currently controlled by republicans. In effect, changes to BadgerCare, SeniorCare, and Medicaid could be made UNILATERALLY by the governor! This is a change to current law, which requires legislative approval to most changes (just like laws require legislative approval. Remember “checks and balances” from junior high civics?)

    Great! I totally trust Walker’s decisions on healthcare.
    This change in the law will remain on the books even if Wisconsin someday has a democratic governor. Do you trust a future democratic governor to sign a bill giving up unilateral authority over healthcare programs? And how authoritarian is it really? It would permit the DHS to: “promulgate any rule under this provision as an emergency rule, using the procedures for emergency rules established in Chapter 227. However, provide that DHS is not required to provide evidence that promulgating a rule as an emergency rule is necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, safety, or welfare and that DHS is not required to provide a finding of an emergency for the rule.” In other words, the bill allows the governor to issue emergency rules regarding health programs without an emergency.

    Whatever. So long as Walker is opposed to Obamacare, I don’t care about stuff like BadgerCare and SeniorCare.
    Actually, Walker’s bill requires a study on the feasibility of pushing state employees out of state-provided health insurance entirely, and instead requiring them to get health insurance through the health care insurance exchanges that are supposed to be established as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (The PPAT or “Obamacare”). The bill actually cites the PPAT as a likely option for state employees’ healthcare. However, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted on February 17, 2011 to withhold funding for implementation of PPAT, and one of Walker’s first acts as governor was to authorize the Wisconsin state attorney general to join a number of other states in challenging the PPAT in court. Walker has also said he will not authorize any state funds to be used to implement the PPAT in Wisconsin. So this part of the bill is puzzling by any standard.

    Not Obamacare! Keep the government out of my health care!
    Then you’d better not become a state employee. Walker’s bill gives the state insurance board authority to REQUIRE state employees to take health risk assessments and participate in wellness programs of the state’s choosing.

    Sources: The Wheeler Report, prepared the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, http://thewheelerreport.com/releases/February11/0214/0214lfb.pdf
    Wisconsin Assembly Bill 11 (“Budget Repair Bill”), available at http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Wisconsin_Assembly_Bill_11,_the_%22Scott_Walker_Budget_Repair_Bill%22_(2011)

    Prepared by Andrea F. Hoeschen, Milwaukee, WI
    Andrea Hoeschen obtained her juris doctor from Tulane Law School in 1995. She represented public and private sector labor unions in Wisconsin, Louisiana, Iowa, and Michigan until 2008. She now is the owner of Starting Line Athletics.

  5. Hi Carrie, I am a friend of Bald’s. My mother was a NY state worker my whole life and at times the only one earning a paycheck. She took the city bus every day to work while I got the finest education. I have also endured a lot of state worker jokes, but from what I saw, they were hard workers. I’m with you sister.

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