Schwager: Labor unions strike back, or strike out?

Clare Schwager

Back in the day, labor unions were pretty cool. They stood up to the corporate giants and gave workers leverage and power. But that power grew. And it grew and it grew.

And grew some more. Today, the public sector unions have become the giant. They no longer represent the people – they represent the political candidate that promises to cut them the best deal once elected. They’ve got the media wrapped around their little finger. They’ve got taxpayers shouldering their benefits for them. And now they’ve got a problem.

The recent protests in Madison, Wis., have been given national media coverage, so you’ve probably heard something about the issue already. But many people don’t know what the big deal is, or which side they stand on or even what the sides are. Well, I’m here to shed a little light on the topic and to get you thinking about your own opinions on the matter.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently proposed a bill that has public sector workers up in arms. The bill would “require government workers to contribute more to their health care and pension costs and largely eliminate their collective bargaining rights.”

Let’s break this down: Union members pay a fee to join a union, and in return the union bargains for them under the assertion that the employee will be better represented as a whole rather than as a unique individual. Union representatives negotiate with employee representatives over salary, working conditions, rules, hours and benefits for their union members collectively, rather than individually. This is collective bargaining, and it grants a huge amount of power to the union.

But who is paying for these benefits?  Where does the money come from, especially in a state with a projected financial deficit of $3.3 billion over the next two years? The answer is simple: taxpayers. Gov. Walker’s plan, however, wouldn’t raise taxes, nor would it affect collective bargaining rights over wages, contrary to protestors’ claims. “First, it will require state employees to pay about 5.8 percent toward their pension (about the private sector national average) and about 12 percent of their health care benefits (about half the private sector national average). These changes will help the state save $30 million in the last three months of the current fiscal year.”

It’s that simple. Those thousands upon thousands of protestors at Wisconsin’s Capitol Square aren’t there to win back basic human rights  — they’re there so they won’t have to contribute to their pension like everyone else does, or to contribute half the amount in health care that everyone else does. This isn’t a matter of restricted freedom and liberties, as the media portrays it. This is a matter of fiscal responsibility, and the union members aren’t willing to play their part.

Why should we care? This is Wisconsin we’re talking about, not Iowa or the nation.

That’s where it gets interesting. Wisconsin is only the starting place of a movement headed away from the union and toward the taxpayer. If this bill passes, similar legislation is sure to sweep across America. Wisconsin’s not the only state with budget deficits. And it looks like Iowa could be in for some reform as well. Former Gov. Chet Culver certainly didn’t help matters when he accepted AFSCME’s demands for a 6 percent wage increase for its members without bargaining in return. He did so right before leaving office, and now taxpayers are left to deal with the consequences (hundreds of millions of dollars).

Wisconsin’s current issue might seem like an isolated one, but in reality, taxpayers are dealing with this across the nation. Maybe you don’t care about anything other than getting through the semester at this point, but rest assured — it’s people like you and me who are going to be paying for all this in the coming years. It’s easy enough to promise anything in order to win a few votes, but eventually the next generation is going to have to pay for it.

Heads up, guys. We’re that generation.