Wisconsin protests not about budget? In a way, yes

It didn’t take long for the meme that the government-versus-unions showdown in Wisconsin isn’t about the budget to make it from Ezra Klein’s blog to the rest of the liberal blogosphere. Maybe the JournoList lives after all.

But in a sense, our friends on the left may be correct. For people outside Wisconsin, this story is not about whether Gov. Scott Walker has to make public employees contribute X dollars more to their pensions or Y percent of their health insurance in order to close a deficit of Z dollars in 2012-13.

It’s about whether public-sector labor unions — and the disproportionate power they wield over the elected officials who are supposed to be their bosses — are an antidemocratic anachronism.

Actually, “anachronism” implies that they were appropriate at one time. No less of a progressive icon than Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared it “unthinkable and intolerable” to have government-worker unions which could strike against the taxpayers who fund their livelihoods — and whom the public employees are supposed to serve. It’s not clear to me that the case was ever really different after FDR’s time.

It’s one thing if auto workers go on strike and the assembly line shuts down for a time. It’s quite another when tenured teachers go on strike and the schools have to shut down for days at a time to accommodate them.

As James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation put it in a commentary on the New York Times’ website, “The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money.”

Among many of the Americans who work in the private sector, the specter of teachers and other public workers going on strike only reinforces the idea that they fit squarely in a “ruling class” that includes politicians, lobbyists and other rent-seekers but excludes the average American.

This is why those who speak about an American plutocracy, essentially a combination of elected officials and the special interests who buy them off to get what they want outside what we consider the democratic process, are looking at the problem too narrowly. Most people probably wouldn’t label school teachers and bureaucrats as “plutocrats.” But what else can we say about those public employees who are refusing to perform essential services — on which government has a monopoly or near-monopoly in most cases — in order to subvert the mandate of the electorate, if not that they are undermining the democratic process?

They, and their Democratic allies in Wisconsin’s Senate, are using leverage that no other group of citizens has in pushing elected officials to bend to their wishes. That’s why all their talk about standing up for democracy rings so hollow.

And that’s why the left is partially correct: This is not only about Wisconsin’s budget.

– By Kyle Wingfield

Find me on Facebook

116 comments Add your comment

Logical Dude

February 21st, 2011
1:45 pm

“It’s about whether public-sector labor unions — and the disproportionate power they wield over the elected officials who are supposed to be their bosses — are an antidemocratic anachronism.”

So, you’re for eliminating all Public sector unions? Police, Fire, Teachers, etc etc?

Is it just because they have disproportionate powere, or is it because they are an antidemocratic anachronism?

Freedom Lover

February 21st, 2011
1:45 pm

Where is the outrage that police and fire are exempt from this law? If this is about the budget, and it certainly IS, whatever else it is about, the police and fire folks and their pensions, benefits, etc. are contributing to the problem as much as the teachers and other government employees. There is a truth that nobody wants to acknowledge and that is that the state governments cannot just print money out of thin air to pay off their friends like the federal government can. The trillions in “stimulus” funds have worsened the problem of inflation, reduced the value of the dollar (thus undermining the retirements of everyone), and were not based on increased “revenue” to the feds.

The states only get their money by stealing it from the citizens either through property, income, or sales taxes. They do not earn it. They have no price mechanism as a business in the productive sector does. There is no profit motive or any true appreciation of costs or value. Every state in the nation has allowed their employees to demand and GET benefits, salaries, pensions, etc. that are far beyond what is sustainable in the current economic climate. While many are able to retire after only 20 years on the job, those in the productive private sector may be facing the need to work 40-50 years to insure that these government pensions stay fully funded. That is flat out disgusting and the people of the states will not stand for it forever.

This is as important a moment for the members of the productive class as it is for the legislatures of the states. A decision must be made as to whether to continue with the current parasite/host relationship or whether a serious change must be made to insure the economic viability of the state and the future of its citizens.

Kingfish

February 21st, 2011
1:46 pm

Rafe Hollister

February 21st, 2011
1:46 pm

Great post Kyle. You are correct the private sector unions are regulated by competition. As Eastern Airlines, the UAW, and the Steel Workers have found out, we can get along without them.

Public sector employees have no competition. It is a rigged process, either give in to their demands or they shut down government.

Dems talked excessively about democracy and the power of the majority as they slammed us with Obamacare and the Stimulus, but turnaround does not set well with the liberal elite or the Obama Media.

Rafe Hollister

February 21st, 2011
1:51 pm

Freedom Lover

You are correct, the WI governor gave in to the Police and Fire Dept unions. They should also be included. None of the public sector employees should be allowed to unionize. They already have civil service protection. I say this as a former non union public sector employee.

jconservative

February 21st, 2011
1:52 pm

Nice piece of writing Kyle. I concur completely.

And I do not have a single comment to make beyond that.

jconservative

February 21st, 2011
1:56 pm

Well I do have a comment. I just cannot stand sitting by with a soapbox handy.

As all know I am fond of irony.

You and me and FDR!

Is that a set of amigos or what!

get out much?

February 21st, 2011
1:56 pm

Well, if the goal is to attract and retain the best teachers, I am sure slashing salaries and benefits is the way to go.

supportteachers

February 21st, 2011
1:57 pm

Seriously??? Have you seen what teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public servants get paid? It is abysmally low except in the few states where unions protect them from continuous cuts by administrators. If we would just eliminate tax cuts for the wealthiest companies in the world (oil comapnies) we wouldn’t have to ask our teachers, etc. to give up their pay and benefits because the Exxons and BPs of the world make 10s of billions in profits. (The Koch brothers are helping to fund the governor in Wisconsin.) Why are we attacking middle class workers who are struggling to eek out a living. At least they work. What would we do without teachers, firefighters and polic officers. I am disgusted by how we are treating them to give the wealthy their tax breaks (which is why Wisconsin is really having budget problems.)

Jimmy62

February 21st, 2011
2:06 pm

Supportteachers: Those businesses would just relocate. Just like the teachers in Wisconsin will if they don’t like the pay there.

The rise in spending in Wisconsin as well as anywhere in the US has far outstripped the rise in population and GDP. Which means spending, no tax cuts, is the problem.

JP

February 21st, 2011
2:08 pm

Not sure I’d put teachers, firefighters, and policemen in the “ruling class”…..

JP

February 21st, 2011
2:10 pm

and if you’re going to talk about a ruling class, how about EVERY lobbyist that buys off our representatives (repub or dem), not just those affiliated with unions.

Petulant Liberalism Run Amok

February 21st, 2011
2:11 pm

Governor Walker’s alternative to fix the budget is to kick about 200,000 children off Medicaid. Collective bargaining is un-American, and un-democratic. The TAXPAYERS should have a say in how their money is spent with their vote (read: bills and amendments), and with union collective bargaining, they have no say, no vote, no voice.

But leave it to the Democrat liberal left to call that fair and just. And regarding what’s going on in Wisconsin, has anyone else notices the hateful and threatening comments and actions of these union goons? They are threatening to burn down the WI state capitol. They are threatening to hang governor Walker and calling him the new Hitler. They are saying his actions of trying to freaking get spending under control that was OUT of control under Democrat liberal rule are declaring war on public/government workers. The teachers have gone on strike through lying and saying they were all “sick” and doctors even collaborating with them and handing out FRAUDULENT sick notes.

And the stalwart Democrat liberal politician hacks in WI are still AWOL like a bunch of cowardly children afraid to face a tough fight. Can you imagine the uproar if Conservative Republicans had pulled a stunts like these for one of their causes? Never mind the impact on children and God knows what they are being indoctrinated with in those horrid government schools. I mean, $90k in wages and benefits on average and teachers and Democrat liberals act like they’d be in soup lines under Walker’s proposal. Pathetic.

I mean SERIOUSLY?? And Democrat liberals called the Tea Party movement a danger to America. It’s disgustingly hypocritical.

Tychus Findlay

February 21st, 2011
2:16 pm

How about instead of paying teachers more, we give them total discretion to maintain discipline in the classroom? Private school teachers on average get paid less than their public sector counterparts yet claim an overall higher sense of job satisfaction stemming from the fact that they get to serve as an educator first and disciplinarian second, whereas public schools are the opposite.

Nobody wants to earn public school teacher’s salary AND have to deal with the constant disruptions in the classrooms. It’s small wonder the best qualified teachers stay out of the public school system and the lesser qualified ones only know how to strike for more money,

Give them back their classrooms and a lot of the problems in the public school system will correct themselves.

Trusslady

February 21st, 2011
2:16 pm

Yes, we are public employees, whose salaries are paid with tax dollars. But I pay taxes also, so I am in effect paying my own salary. If there is no collective bargaining allowed, public employees will be subject to the salary whims of whichever tea party type initiative is currently in vogue. I’ve hear for years you want the best and brightest in public service, but treat them like your maid or yard worker and that is what you will get. That and we’ll really be like the third world country we’re becoming where public employee’s augment their meager salaries with bribes/extortion.
Before you all tell us how you would run the public service, try doing a bit of your partriotic duty and work for the government.

We need MORE unionS

February 21st, 2011
2:17 pm

The WI governor gave away 160 million dollars in tax cuts and credits to corporations in January, instead of balancing the budget. So the whole thing starts with a LIE!

We don’t have unions for teachers or any other state employees in GA.

But, the state, counties and cities here still have MASSIVE DEBT, layoffs and furloughs for these workers. Also, our schools are rated about 48th in the nation– SO IT AIN’T THE UNIONS FAULT!

What we do have are republicans at every level of government! The GOP equals failure!

RB

February 21st, 2011
2:18 pm

It’s simple, if I have no money in my checking account, why bother going to an ATM. These teachers are funded by the state tax payers. Sounds like the Governor is going for a right to work state, which would be good long term.

supportteachers

February 21st, 2011
2:18 pm

The biggest part of most state budgets by far is Medicare and Medicaid. It is certainly not teacher salaries!!! By the way, state workers (except some politicians) pay taxes too. If the Tea Party is so serious about cutting budgets let them cut seniors’ Medicare and tell me how that goes.

Kyle Wingfield

February 21st, 2011
2:29 pm

jconservative: I do appreciate the irony of that trio :-)

supportteachers: In Georgia the average teacher makes at least $10,000 a year more than the average of all workers; the average police officer makes 95 percent of the average of all workers, the average firefighter 85 percent: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ga.htm#25-0000

I wouldn’t characterize any of those salaries as “abysmally low.”

JP: I didn’t intend to imply that I meant only lobbyists affiliated with unions.

JP

February 21st, 2011
2:32 pm

Kyle – seriously, would you really consider teachers, firemen, and policemen part of a ruling class in this country. Really?

Committee of Public Safety

February 21st, 2011
2:32 pm

It didn’t take long for the meme that the government-versus-unions showdown in Wisconsin isn’t about the budget to make it from Ezra Klein’s blog to the rest of the liberal blogosphere. Maybe the JournoList lives after all.

Methinks you give Mr. Klein a little too much credit. I, for one, haven’t read Klein on this particular issue, and I certainly don’t need to get my political breakdown from the Washington Post of all places.

Not sure where to start here. I love uncle Franklin as much as the next Kapital-toting, grubby-handed socialist, but he was dead wrong on this one, I have to say. In any case, your logic is so tortuously misguided that I really don’t know where to start. But don’t you think it’s a bit much to lump in sanitation workers, firefighters, and others into the ‘plutocracy’? At first I though it was meant in jest, but I think you really mean it. Which means, you must really think it makes sense to lump in public workers who do valuable service to society with people like Anthony Mozilo, Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, not to mention the Brothers Koch and their minions. Which is, a little bit, oh I don’t know, obscene as a comparison, don’t you think?

Get on with it

February 21st, 2011
2:33 pm

Dont you know there are tens of thousands of teachers being forced into the union and they dont want to be. The money teachers pay for union dues goes to the big union dogs and they give that money to the democratic party for keeping them in power.

You cut the Unions and teachers get more money and they have more power to teach the right way. They also have the choice of taking a job or moving on with another system. The bad teachers (and there are plenty of them) would then be removed for poor job performance and thats exactly what we need. We need good teachers taking care of our kids education but thats not what we have. We have big Union pushing the good and the BAD and our kids suffer.

Union has no right in the federal government at all, anywhere. Government workers need to do the same job functions as the private sector and get paid the same way, but earning promotions and production and outcome. I can tell you one thing; if I had a company of my own there is one group I would never hire and thats a out of work government worker. I have seen way to often their job eithic and it does not look good most of the time.

Blah

February 21st, 2011
2:33 pm

Teachers are the only group I constantly hear talking about how “little” they make. Did someone trick them into goinng into teaching and then lower the salary?

Kyle Wingfield

February 21st, 2011
2:34 pm

MORE unionS: The budget deficit is $3.6 billion — or 22.5 times as much as the tax cuts you mentioned.

supportteachers @ 2:18: Wrong, at least in Georgia. Education makes up about 55 percent of state spending here, and the vast majority of that is for teachers’ salaries (local money pays for most everything else).

Get on with it

February 21st, 2011
2:35 pm

Sorry about the typo’s.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

February 21st, 2011
2:35 pm

Good argument Mr. Wingfield.

Kyle Wingfield

February 21st, 2011
2:38 pm

JP @ 2:32: I would consider their unions to be, yes.

Kyle Wingfield

February 21st, 2011
2:41 pm

John

February 21st, 2011
2:42 pm

Every teeacher and public employee who called in sick when they were actually protesting should be prosecuted fpr the felony of making a false statement to a government agency, go to prison and have their teaching credentials revoked forever. Every teacher should be given until tomorrow ro report back to work. If they don’t, they should be fired. Hire teachers who want to work. Any teacher or public employee who goes on strike is making the statement that they don’t want their job. I don’t want rifraff like that teaching my child.

supportteachers

February 21st, 2011
2:44 pm

Kyle: From the link you shared, here is the actual data for Georgia:

Wage Estimates
Occupation Title Mean Annual
All Occupations $41,340
Teachers and Instructors $22,060 (Difference: -$19,280 (almost 50%) less than all workers’ average)

The “all education” number you quoted which is still abysmally low (teachers in GA 2nd lowest paid in U.S.) includes professors who have earned Ph.D.s and thus get paid a little bit more. This does not bode well for the future in GA because businesses are not attracted to states with poor education systems and low education levels.

DW

February 21st, 2011
2:45 pm

Umm yea.. they should just shut up and take it so that rich folks can keep tax breaks

JF McNamara

February 21st, 2011
2:47 pm

I have a hard time seeing teachers as a villain. The problem is that if they don’t have a union, then they have no voice. What are they supposed to do? They can’t afford high dollar lobbyist like private industry which basically serves as their “union” if you will. Private industry buys power and no one seems to care. How is that any different than a teacher strike?

If the teacher’s union is so powerful, why isn’t everyone rushing to become a teacher? They aren’t. They are rushing to private industry because teaching salaries are bad. To me, that pretty much invalidates any talk of teachers being part of some elite group.

that's goofy

February 21st, 2011
2:50 pm

Kyle – take a look at your own paper sometime. How much money filters into the board of education offices? Take a look at salaries for superintendents, supervisors and directors. Should the head of a school district’s HR dept. make over 100K in tax payer money? A higher percentage flows to those that do not teach.

The fight in Wis is about salaries and being treated professionally. Would you work at the AJC if the readers voted on your compensation?

DW

February 21st, 2011
2:53 pm

well put JF macnamara

xdog

February 21st, 2011
2:54 pm

Ever hear of blue flu, John?

To the main point, it’s clear that Walker’s move is more about union busting than budget balancing. And tell me again why the cops and firefighters were excluded?

Kyle Wingfield

February 21st, 2011
2:54 pm

supportteachers: I’m sorry, but you are flat-out wrong about every statistic in your 2:44, save the one for “All Occupations.”

The line item to which you refer is for “Teachers and Instructors, All Other,” which essentially means people who don’t fit into one of the 48 other categories of teachers in the survey. Here are the line items for teachers in k-12 schools:

Kindergarten Teachers, Except Special Education: $47,150
Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education: $52,390
Middle School Teachers, Except Special and Vocational Education: $51,860
Vocational Education Teachers, Middle School: $54,540
Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Vocational Education: $53,610
Vocational Education Teachers, Secondary School: $54,680
Special Education Teachers, Preschool, Kindergarten, and Elementary School: $51,550
Special Education Teachers, Middle School: $50,900
Special Education Teachers, Secondary School: $54,540

I haven’t compiled the information, but this website has done so and reports that Georgia ranks 19th in the nation in average teacher salary, which, as you may realize, is a long way from 49th: http://www.teachersalaryinfo.com/average-teacher-salary-georgia.html

Kyle Wingfield

February 21st, 2011
2:57 pm

JF: Teachers don’t have collective bargaining in Georgia and, as the stats I cited at 2:54 indicate, they seem to be doing OK compared to all other workers and compared to other teachers around the country.

that’s goofy: I agree wholeheartedly that we spend too much money on administration.

Linda

February 21st, 2011
2:57 pm

The demise of the state public unions could have begun with dysfunction & lack of performance outside the classroom:

http://fellowshipofminds.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/in-midst-of-financial-crisis-wisconsin-union-sue-for-viagra/

Dan

February 21st, 2011
3:05 pm

People seem to think that low teachers salaries, equates to lack of respect or a dearth of understanding, but it is not. It is the law of supply and demand, an economic law that is as inflexible as gravity. It is not about left or right politics, and it is not subjective. The number of teachers necessary for public education means the ratio of teachers to taxpayers is very high. This causes the resources to be spread thin, both monetarily and qualitativly. I often hear comparisons of “athletes get make millions while teachers, firemen and police make almost nothing (and I come from a family of cops). Generally speaking if you divided how much each person in a given city pays for Football players, teachers, cops and firemen, they would be ranked teachers, cops, firefighters, and football players. This is dictated by how many of each are necessary, and teachers cost 2 or 3 times as much as the others. I am not saying it is unreasonable or should be less, just providing a dose of reality.

Freedom Lover

February 21st, 2011
3:16 pm

“But I pay taxes also, so I am in effect paying my own salary”

Truly dubious “logic.” No, what it means is that the productive sector pays your taxes too since every penny you get paid came from them.

Unfortunately we have allowed government and its supporters to convince us that certain services can ONLY be provided by government. And yet, 80+% of all firemen in this country are volunteers, private security personnel keep hundreds of thousands of people safe despite the presence of government police, private teachers and parents provide education to millions accross the country, private trash services pick up billions of tons of garbage every year and the list could go on and on. I don’t want to debate federal services, but certainly at the state level there is not a single service or function that could not be handled either by collectives of private citizens, charitable groups, non-profits, or private businesses.

The difference, and it is the key difference is that if all of these services are provided in the context of a free and competitive market, the consumer becomes the decider, not the politicians.

So whether or not some of the income that you get from the productive sector goes back in to cover some of your wages, the reality is that government employees do not work in a conpetitive marketplace where their continued employment is decided through the voluntary exchange of money for goods or services as determined by the voluntary consumer. Until such time, the money is just stolen.

Logic

February 21st, 2011
3:28 pm

why do teachers even need a union? they already have the DOE (which should be dissolved), and they have higher average wages than the avg american takes home

Mr_B

February 21st, 2011
3:29 pm

WI teachers have already conceded the economic cuts that Walker says he need to close the budget gap that he created last month with some of the tax cuts the the Tea partiers were crying for. The only thing that teachers are demanding is the right to bargain collectively, and to maintain their unions as they see fit, not the state. Ford and GM don’t get to dictate union proceedures to the UAW.
As far as private/ public salary comparisons: see what a Masters level degree will get you in $$$ in the private sector, versus what it’s worth in public education. A teacher in GA with a MA will make about 50 in most of the state, a little higher in Atlanta Metro.

Freedom Lover

February 21st, 2011
3:29 pm

Dan – Excellent comment. But there are even more considerations. Because the government has created monopolies for many services, there is no real “VALUE” placed on them as would be the case if there was a competitive market and direct payment for the services. It is not you or I who determine the wages of a teacher, but rather the political class. Yes, there are some market pressures, but truly when the government controls 80-90% of the educational services delivered, this market distortion flows through the process.

Currently it costs about $8500 per student to educate them in a GA government school. The average homeowner pays about $1500 total for school taxes no matter how many children get the service or even if none do. How can one place a “VALUE” on education when one doesn’t even come close to paying for the services one gets? Would everyone in america be willing to pay $80 a ticket to see a profession football game if they actually had to pay for their own child’s educational costs? If everyone had to really pay for what things actually cost, what would they place VALUE on? If you had to pay for your own child’s education might you demand that the teachers at the school get better pay and that other items be cut to save money? You certainly don’t have any say in the current system since you can’t even take your small amount of money and leave.

Dan is right. What someone gets paid is about a lot of things, but it is important to understand that neither the parents nor the children are the consumers of government education. As such, discussions about pay and value are inappropriate. Fix this relationship and one might likely discover teachers making far more than today and administrators making far less.

Mr_B

February 21st, 2011
3:31 pm

Logic: Teachers are more highly educated than most Americans and they work about 10 hour days on average. Would you want the job for what we get paid?

John

February 21st, 2011
3:33 pm

Even more amazing is that the teachers in the best private and Catholic schools make significantly less than public school teachers with equal experience and qualifications and have benefits that are far inferior. Students in those schools perform much better and you don’t find those teachers whining about low pay.

Business Owner

February 21st, 2011
3:34 pm

supportteachers

Here is a link to an actual breakdown of salaries for the 2011 fiscal year direct from budget services.http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/DMGetDocument.aspx/SASCH2011IALL-0ALL.pdf?p=6CC6799F8C1371F6F1F172A599DCDD5E60101F16EA10C6AD851E25F37B5370AB&Type=D
As you can see base pay is actually a little over $33,000 for a first year teacher with the very basic minumum certifications. Based on tenure and other certifications it goes up from there. Mind you this also doesn’t include benefits so if you add that in they would be very close the $40,000 mentioned. Not bad considering they get a few paid months off along with other holidays throughout… Many teachers such as my cousin get a part time job over the summer either tutoring, additional summerschool teaching (extra pay), or any number of other jobs that add an additional few thousand dollars to their annual pay. This on top of the grants they can get for additional education etc which in turn gets them a bump up the pay scale. She tried the corporate world and quickly went back to teaching because she made the same amount of money but had more vacation and less hours as a teacher.

retired early

February 21st, 2011
3:36 pm

Georgia is non union and state workers salaries are pathetic, because we are the last budget item to be considered each year…no ‘extra money’…no raise…year after year because we have no clout/union.
Once these GOP dominated state governments get their way as in Wi, it will just be a matter of time before the other states follow suit. Georgia now has 1/2 pension, 1/2 401K for new employees…that to will change to all 401K in the near future. Low salaries and no pension…do you want a job in state government. Be careful what you ask for…less government..as in less services…you got it. The ‘bottom feeders’ left in state government will be processing your tax returns, protecting you and your property, issuing licenses, etc. Better not get audited…fun times ahead for all.

Jeremy

February 21st, 2011
3:37 pm

Does anyone have any idea why superintendents make $200-300K? I say cut their pay by half.

Logic

February 21st, 2011
3:37 pm

Mr_B: To your first comment. The teachers will continue to have collective bargaining rights, but for wages only. And if Ford and GM could “dictate” union procedures, they would be on top as american cars would be far more affordable and prices not driven up due to unrealistic union pensions.

To your second comment: There are far more people who are just as educated and work the same if not more hours that earn less than teachers do.

real john

February 21st, 2011
3:41 pm

Listen, I come from many teachers in my family so I’m know that teaching is not easy.

HOWEVER, lets do some math here. The average teacher works about 190 days a year (180 day school schedule plus 10 teacher days or so).

The average private working (assuming 50 weeks time 5 working days) and two weeks vacation, work 250 days a year.

Net: Teachers work 60 less days a year.

Teachers in Georiga make approx. $50,000k a year. As Kyle mentioned, about 10k more than the average worker.

Net: Teachers make 10k more.

The average private worker saving 10% into 401(k) is $4000 a year or $333 a month.

The average worker for a family of four pays probably around $400-$500 a month in healthcare for another $4-5K a year in healthcare.

The public sector pays almost nothing for pension and healthcare.

Net: Private pays an extra 9-10K (conservatively) in retirement and healthcare cost.

Net: Public is netting another 10K a year in income.

So basically public sector is netting an extra 20K a year versus private sector while working two full months LESS.

Now do public sector employees see why private sector employees are tired of funding them??