Bargaining Rights Nothing to Bargain With

by Ashley Carter
Columnist

With an economy that has still failed to fully recover and a Congress gridlocked over a new federal budget, the United States has money on the mind. For this reason, it is not at all shocking that the conflict begun in Wisconsin last week has spread like wildfire to every other state in the country.

Last week, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a budget bill spearheaded by Republicans that would take away nearly all collective bargaining rights from unions in the state of Wisconsin.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker claims that the measure was proposed, as part of the state’s yearly budget, because unions use their powers of collective bargaining to prevent cost-saving measures from being implemented. The bill would require workers to contribute more money to their health care premiums and pensions, with an exception made for firefighters and police officers.

While the unions would retain their right to collective bargaining for wages, any wage increases would require voter approval. These changes would affect public sector workers employed by the state, including public school teachers.

However, the bill has yet to pass the Wisconsin Senate, and its future is uncertain. Fourteen Democratic senators from Wisconsin have fled across the border to Illinois, leaving the senate one member short of the quorum required to vote on the bill.

As the senators have yet to return to Wisconsin, the state is unable to pass its budget for the year. Gov. Walker has threatened that if the senators do not return to vote on the bill, funding will soon run out for city governments, essentially causing a shutdown.

It is not surprising that all 49 other American states have responded so passionately to the fighting in Wisconsin. Collective bargaining rights given to unions are a touchy issue across the nation — especially for those who are members of unions themselves. Teachers across the country have been especially vocal, staging protests to match those of teachers in Wisconsin.

Perhaps the most surprising response has been that of Wisconsin’s unions. Union leaders have agreed to take pay cuts this year, if it will allow them to retain their collective bargaining rights and avoid layoffs that will be implemented if the budget fails to pass.

So how will this affect Transylvania students? While it may seem that what happens in Wisconsin could never affect Kentucky, the fact is that Kentucky has a Republican-controlled senate as well.

If Wisconsin’s governor is successful in passing his budget with the cuts to union rights included, Kentucky might find itself facing a similar bill very soon. The rights of public-sector unions to collective bargaining could be eliminated. For Transy students, this means that any public-sector job that you might seek after graduation would be limited in how it could respond to cuts in pay or the loss of benefits.

Many Americans, including myself, feel that the rights of unions are essential to American workers. Union workers were given the right to collective bargaining in order to protect them from their employers, to ensure that they are given fair wages and fair benefits.

Workers in Wisconsin have already shown their willingness to avoid both layoffs and the loss of their rights as workers by taking pay cuts that would allow a balanced budget. Under no circumstances should the rights of workers to protect themselves be taken away — and certainly not in the name of a balanced budget.

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