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Walker Vs. Labor: Setting The Stage

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on December 23, 2010

As I just wrote in the previous post, to understand the big news of the day, how the state Democrats failed to pass the union contracts despite pulling some really weird stunts themselves, one has to understand how we got to this point.

In the previous post, I explained Scott Walker’s history vis-a-vis with the unions. In a nutshell, whatever Walker says about demanding concessions from the unions, does not come anywhere close to how he actually interacts with them.
Just as he did with Milwaukee County’s unions, most notably mine,AFSCME, Walker has been attacking the state’s unions. He has been calling, pleading, whining, threatening, cajoling and coercing anyone and everyone asking the unions and the state to stop their good faith bargaining. He wanted them to stop the negotiation so that he could do the same thing he has done the last two years in Milwaukee County.
He has said that he wants state workers to pay more for their health insurance, pay more towards their pension and take a pay freeze, among other things. He has even gone as far as saying he woulddecertify the unions, which made talk radio hosts and conservativebloggers around the state giggle with gleeful anticipation.
But the joke is on them, because Walker simply cannot do that.
But the fact that Walker is throwing out nothing more than empty rhetoric does not slow his allies in the state legislature or in the media from playing along with his falsehoods.
An example of this would be the way that Republican legislators, squawk radio hosts and conservative radio hosts were bawling for days that they didn’t know what was in the contracts. They kept this up even though the state legislators did indeed know what was in there and despite the fact that it is illegal to make the terms of a contract known until it has been ratified, in order to prevent bad faith bargaining.
Another example, illustrated by Patrick McIlheran of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is the spin regarding the terms of the contract once it became public knowledge:

Union leaders have snarled as well that the new contracts are plenty harsh, since they don’t include raises. True, though that, too, is normal for the rest of us. The deals, however, include lots of changes, seemingly small, in which the state concedes all sorts of prerogatives.

One is the way pensions get calculated. Another is the power to decide how to take compensation for overtime – cash or time off? – and when. This now would be up to employees. Another is more paid time off for union business. The list goes on.

“It’s huge,” said Darling. “It’s the biggest concession of management rights I’ve heard of.”

And that matters why? Because such concessions are gold to union leaders, as old labor negotiators told me. Controlling when and how employees take comp time, for instance, is critical to keeping overtime in line, especially in places such as prisons that are staffed 24/7. The state will want to win back that right in the next contract, due in six months, but it will have to pay for it.

If McIlheran or State Senator Alberta Darling truly and honestly believe these are the worst things in the world, then they, like Owen Robinsonin my previous post, simply have not been paying much attention to what Walker has actually been doing.
If they had been paying attention, the would know that Milwaukee County employees enjoy the option of taking overtime in either deferred time off or in pay, both at time and a half. They would have also known that Milwaukee County union officials and workers can get paid for taking time off to attend to union business.
In other words, the very same benefits that McIlheran, Darling and every other Republican in the state has been whining about are pretty equivalent to those that Milwaukee County workers enjoy now as a result of the contract that Scott Walker himself had signed off on.
For the Republicans to say that these benefits are so outrageous, it would require some of the greatest ignorance, greatest hypocrisy and/or utter dishonesty.
But no matter what you attribute the Republicans foolishness to, none of it bodes well for the state or it’s citizens.
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