While people in several countries in the Middle East demonstrate amidst threats and violence to demand basic rights and Democracy, Republicans in Wisconsin are attacking democracy and the working class in the name of deficit control.
The bill (SB11), proposed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Valentine’s Day, specifically seeks to eliminate the collective bargaining rights for public employees, except for public safety employees, who happen to be the only union members who supported Walker in his last campaign.
“Under current law, municipal employees have the right to collectively bargain over wages, hours, and conditions of employment under the Municipal Employment Relations Act (MERA), and state employees have the right to collectively bargain over wages, hours, and conditions of employment under the State Employment Labor Relations Act (SELRA). This bill changes MERA and SELRA with respect to all employees except employees who are certain protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System or under a county or city retirement system (public safety employees). This bill limits the right to collectively bargain for all employees who are not public safety employees (general employees) to the subject of base wages. In addition, unless a referendum authorizes a greater increase, any general employee who is part of a collective bargaining unit is limited to bargaining over a percentage of total base wages increase that is no greater than the percentage change in the consumer price index. This bill also prohibits municipal employers from collectively bargaining with municipal general employees in matters that are not permitted under MERA.”
Well, the public workers decided they weren’t going to just sit back and take it. Thousands of teachers, firefighters, students, and other municipal workers gathered in the Capitol Rotunda and spilled out onto the grounds of the capitol as they demanded the defeat of this bill. Chants of “Kill this bill” and “Recall Walker” were prominent as the crowd tried to make sure someone was listening.
In addition, the bill seeks to make representation more complicated by separating the represented groups, a classic union busting, right wing move.
“Under SELRA and MERA, a collective bargaining unit elects a labor organization as its representative once a majority of the employees in that collective bargaining unit who are actually voting votes for that labor organization; that labor organization remains the representative unless a percentage of members of the collective bargaining unit supports a petition for a new election and subsequently votes to decertify the representative. This bill requires an annual certification election of the labor organization that represents each collective bargaining unit containing general employees. If, at the election, less than 51 percent of the actual employees in the collective bargaining unit vote for a representative, then, at the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement, the current representative is decertified and the members of the collective bargaining unit are non-represented and may not be represented for one year. This bill requires an initial certification election for all represented state and municipal general employees in April 2011.”
Add to these attacks the fact that the bill would require workers to pay half of the contributions toward their pensions and at least 12.6% of their health care premium payments, and you have a bill that makes a significant impact on the pocketbooks of working class municipal employees.
The Governor and his Republican colleagues counter by indicating this bill will save 300 million dollars over the next two years, helping to reduce a deficit of 3.6 billion dollars. But the 10% impact on the deficit does not come close to the impact it will have on the families of the thousands of municipal workers, who generally rely on the better than average benefits to offset the lower than average pay.
This is the blueprint for the Republican legislators across the nation. These cuts will not impact the wealthiest, but they will deeply hurt the middle class, already rapidly becoming an endangered species in this country.
It is clear that protests like the one in Madison are going to need to become more prominent in this country if this is how Republicans plan to solve the debt crisis they created over the last decade. Perhaps the people who decided conservatives were the ones who were most concerned about the country as a whole will realize the regressive fiscal practices they employ will not take us forward, but rather move us further toward a third world caste system where only the wealthy receive basic services.
Every great movement in this nation was started with a group of working class people who were tired of the powerful using their wealth and position as leverage to keep them down. These movements are not to be confused with the Tea Party rallies staged by political action groups under the premise of false information targeted at the ignorant.
Perhaps we will look back one day and see Madison, Wisconsin as the beginning of the next great movement in our nation.