Busting Unions Not Part of Senate Bill 11’s Agenda

by Lyman Stone

Given the continuously large protests in Wisconsin and the ongoing exile of the state’s Democratic senators, it seems worthwhile to look at the matter again. While Wisconsin laws do not, of course, directly matter for Kentucky, what happens in Wisconsin may prove a litmus test for laws elsewhere. Many Transylvania students will one day work in the public sector, and so the fate of the unions there is of significant concern.

The benefit of a protracted political process is that it gives time to do research. In order to facilitate the debate, this columnist has read Wisconsin’s Senate Bill 11. It is 144 pages. Most of the legislators have not read it. They have interns who read it. They themselves fled to Chicago.

The bill does not, as our media has told us, strip away collective bargaining rights completely (much to this columnist’s dismay). The text of the bill does not read “Crush unions!” It has certain provisions that have certain meanings. I will offer my gleanings.

Public employees will still have rights to collectively bargain concerning their salaries, that is, how much they get paid. They no longer have the right to collectively bargain on “management and direction” issues like, for example, what brand a new printer should be or who should be hired for the new supervisor job.

Any time a union wants to collectively bargain, an employer can ask a government commission to require a vote of the workers themselves on if they want to collectively bargain. Oh no, democracy! Union leaders will have to be supported by workers. Union elections will be required to have a secret ballot as well.

Regarding budgetary concerns, restrictions are placed on the wanton creation of fiscal liabilities through new pension plans. Wage increases will be capped at the U.S. Consumer Price Index, a “high” measure of inflation. An increase over that amount is possible, if government fiscal entities outside of the employment agency confirm it. Union workers will face higher pension contributions and health care costs, government contributions to which are also legislatively capped.

Many other provisions are present of a similarly pragmatic nature. However, possibly the most controversial point (besides requiring unions to seek democratic approval from workers) is the removal of non-public-safety union rights (mostly but not entirely those of teachers) to collectively bargain for pension plans.

Basically, school boards cannot unilaterally increase teachers’ pensions. It has to be passed by the government itself. Frankly, this makes sense, given that it is ultimately the state and local governments that foot the bill when school boards rack up expenses.

Essentially, the protests are about unions not wanting fiscal agencies to have a say in union pensions, and not wanting generalized government employees to get a say on if a workplace is unionized.

In sum, it’s not about anybody’s well-being; they’ve already agreed to the cuts themselves. It’s about power, pure and simple, either in the hands of democratically elected government officials or the union officials themselves.

After reading the bill, I was actually disappointed. Disappointed that it didn’t go further, that is.


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