You still can’t find a single Democratic state senator in the entire state of Wisconsin. All 14 of them remain in self-imposed exile in Illinois, and as long as they stay there, they can continue to prevent passage of a highly controversial bill that would sharply reduce benefits for teachers and other government employees and, more importantly, gut public labor unions.
It’s that second aspect of the bill that has drawn national and even international attention. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports:
The bill would require most public workers to pay half their pension costs – typically 5.8% of pay for state workers – and in many cases at least 12% of their health care costs. Union leaders have said they are willing to accept those concessions, which total nearly $330 million through June 2013.
Under the bill, the unions could not bargain over anything but wages, would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks. Employees would no longer have to automatically pay union dues, but could choose whether they want to do so.
In other words, the unions are willing to swallow the economic demands. If givebacks are necessary to help balance the state budget in a time of crisis, the employees say they’re willing to do their part.
However, Gov. Scott Walker has refused to accept that offer and also refuses to negotiate with labor or Democrats. He doesn’t see this merely as a chance to win an important battle against organized labor; he sees it as an opportunity to win the entire war, forever, by stripping state unions of most of their power and influence. And if he succeeds, the implications for the labor movement nationwide would be profound.
At the moment, only five states prohibit collective bargaining by teachers and other public employees, as the map below demonstrates. Georgia is one of the five. (Note: The right to bargain collectively does not imply the legal right to strike in many states.)
Teachers unions in particular have long been a favorite target of conservatives, with a lot of people blaming unions for poor classroom performance. So the map above made me curious: How does the ability of teachers to form unions and bargain collectively correlate to classroom performance? If strong teachers unions truly do hamper education, the five states that ban collective bargaining by teachers ought to rank fairly high in educational performance.
Here are the numbers for the five states in question, plus Wisconsin, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, given annually across the nation to fourth and eighth graders.
Texas, North Carolina and Virginia are roughly at the national average. Georgia and South Carolina trail in most categories. Wisconsin does very well.
Here are the state rankings for average SAT scores for the six states in question:
North Carolina 39
South Carolina 48
The numbers above might be a little misleading, given that most Wisconsin seniors take the ACT rather than the SAT. Then again, Wisconsin ranks second on the ACT as well.
– Jay Bookman