After a week of wildcat strikes and “sickouts” by public employees in Wisconsin, counter protesters are now descending on Madison to support Governor Walker. For days I have been following this story detailing the efforts of public employees and teachers unions to prevent Governor Walker and the Republican controlled State Legislature from passing a measure aimed at bringing the state’s ledger back into balance. Earlier in the week, Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO came to Wisconsin to lend support to the protesters. Today, Tea Party members, tax payer organizations and voters from across the state are staging a counter protest and remind the country that plenty of people in Wisconsin support Governor Walker’s budget repair bill.
Governor Walker’s proposal asks public employees to contribute 12% of their health benefits, about half the private sector average of 23%. He also wants them to contribute more to their pensions. By way of comparison pensions have generally been replaced by 401k type defined contribution plans in the private sector. The governor also wants to make joining a union optional for public employees; it is currently mandatory. Finally the proposal would eliminate collective bargaining for issues other than salary for all public employees except police, firefighters and state troopers.
As the week wore on, the protests against Governor Walker grew in size, intensity and vitriol, suggesting recent calls for more civility in our discourse have been quickly forgotten by many in the crowd. It was also revealed that the Democratic National Committee and President Obama’s Organizing for America have been playing an active role in staging and inciting the protests. For his part President Obama said he did not know much about the bill in question but suggested it was not right to interfere with collective bargaining.
Today’s rallies are intended to remind the protesters that the taxpayers can no longer afford to offer such generous benefits to state employees. With protests by public sector unions expected to spread across the country in the coming weeks it is also clear that Tea Party and taxpayer groups are preparing to defend their position that government has become too big, too intrusive and too expensive to be sustained. The group American Majority is also taking part in the rallies to support Governor Walker and a spokesman for that group said he expected thousands of conservatives from across Wisconsin to head to the capital today.