Protesters in Wisconsin kept the heat on Republican lawmakers in that Midwestern state over the weekend, demanding that the legislature drop a provision in Gov. Scott Walker's "budget repair" bill that would restrict public sector workers' right to collectively bargain for benefits and work rules.

Walker has shown no willingness to compromise, saying that repealing these rights is necessary to balance the state's budget. In the process of demonizing those who are essentially his own workforce, Walker has inflamed passions -- and reinvigorated the nation's flagging union movement.

It remains unclear why Walker is making the demands he is. Reducing state workers' ability to collectively bargain won't do anything to aid the state's budget woes, which are pretty mild compared to the red ink some other states are bleeding.

An Opportunity to "Crush the Unions"


So why are middle-class workers who happen to work for the state the target of such bullying from Wisconsin's chief executive? Walker and his Republican colleagues in the legislature view the fiscal crisis as an "an opportunity to do something that they wanted to do all along, which is to crush the unions," says Rebecca Givan, assistant professor of collective bargaining at Cornell University's ILR School.

Some Republicans are simply angry about labor's involvement in elections. Unions donate a lot of time and "decent amount of money" to help get candidates elected, Givan says in an interview. The candidates not on the receiving end of that largess would like to see unions eliminated.

But scapegoating public workers is backfiring for another reason. The notion that somehow public workers' pay packages are breaking the budget just don't hold up. These workers' entire compensation package -- salary, health care, pensions, etc. -- make up a tiny fraction of the state budget, Givan says.

They also didn't create the state's current budget woes. So, why should public workers have to suffer for a lack of stewardship in Madison?

A Race to the Bottom

"The reason union members are being asked to pay the price is that people who don't get good pensions and health care -- instead of taking the attitude that we should all have better pensions and health care -- are taking the attitude that 'I don't want my taxes to pay for people to get something that I don't get,'" Givan says.

Essentially, what critics of public workers' compensation are promoting is a race to the bottom -- he who has least, wins.

It's no coincidence that average workers' wages have stagnated in the last few decades as union rolls have declined in the U.S. Only about 7% of today's private sector workforce is unionized, leaving the vast majority of workers to negotiate their own compensation. The ability of union workers to negotiate fair, livable wages as a group -- via collective bargaining -- is the tide that raises all boats, while the lone worker gets swallowed up by the storm.

And while it's true that public sector workers do have generally better health care and pension packages than their private sector counterparts, that's a fact regardless of whether that state's workers are represented by a union or not, Givan says. So, to argue that unions force better benefits packages for public sectors workers is a falsehood.

Moreover, public sector jobs have traditionally offered lower pay than comparable private sector positions. In return, public employees get higher levels of benefits and more job security.

A Long, Uphill Climb

The protests in Wisconsin and the solidarity shown by union workers and their supporters in other states prove that unions have a positive side, Givan says. "It's channeling a lot of the anger that people have aimed at corporate greed and to a lesser extent the campaign finance system."

Still, the momentum isn't likely to boost numbers of union workers in the private sector, she says, "just because the union-busting industry is so big and profitable and virulent that it's still a huge challenge."


Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Getting out of debt

Everyone hates debt. Get out of it.

View Course »

Advice for Recent College Grads

Prepare yourself for the "real world".

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

1509 Comments

Filter by:
mtjoel

If it is true (which it isn't) that public employees make just as much more money than private sector employees whether they are represented by public unions or not, then why are public unions so dead-set against giving up part of their collective bargaining power? You can't argue that collective bargaining power does not get any more taxpayer money for public employees than not having collective bargaining power, and at the very same time argue that collective bargaining power is important for public employees! This article makes no sense.

March 07 2011 at 7:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dave

Ever heard of the Davis Bacon Act of 1931, a United States federal law which established the requirement for paying prevailing wages on public works projects. All federal government construction contracts, and most contracts for federally assisted construction over $2,000, must include provisions for paying workers on-site no less than the locally prevailing wages and benefits paid on similar projects. I have seen several projects that cost at least 50% in wages more than if they were done at the every day cost that most companies charge. Imagine going to the store to buy a ream of paper for say $2.00, not imagine that because it will be used for a government project you tell the store manager that he must charge you $3.00 or you can't buy it from him. Well the same thing is basically what happens everyday in government projects. They ask for bids, the NON-UNION company must bid ( and then pay their employees) the job at the overpriced prevailing (union) going wage rates, so the union companies will be competitive with the non- unions companies. AND WHO PICKS UP THE EXTRA -----YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU not to mention that those evil greedy companies tend to make move at your expense as well

March 03 2011 at 4:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dave

Ever heard of the Davis–Bacon Act of 1931, a United States federal law which established the requirement for paying prevailing wages on public works projects. All federal government construction contracts, and most contracts for federally assisted construction over $2,000, must include provisions for paying workers on-site no less than the locally prevailing wages and benefits paid on similar projects. I have seen several projects that cost at least 50% in wages more than if they were done at the every day cost that most companies charge. Imagine going to the store to buy a ream of paper for say $2.00, not imagine that because it will be used for a government project you tell the store manager that he must charge you $3.00 or you can't buy it from him. Well the same thing is basically what happens everyday in government projects. They ask for bids, the NON-UNION company must bid ( and then pay their employees) the job at the overpriced union going wage rates, so the union companies will be competitive with the non- unions companies. AND WHO PICKS UP THE EXTRA _-----YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU

March 03 2011 at 4:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bran0217

This man and the tea party is no better than Gadhafi ,Who wants what he wants and cares less about the people. He’s trying to prove a point period .Point being he has the power, till the day comes and real Americans stand up and say no more, Like what happened in the late 60’s and early 70’s, They have no idea this is still a free country with freedom of speech, He seems to have the mind set of Hitter as this tea party does .Tea party people are a small part of America, they don’t stand for all of us. I regret when people call down the teachers and any members of a Union, Teachers spend anywhere between 50 too 60 thousand to enter this field of work, Tea party leaders are playing on the people that lack the knowledge of the less advantaged, Think about it people where does the party get the money to run theses types of events for the average person,You don’t see them using money out of their own pockets

March 03 2011 at 4:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
higgdj7

Maybe if ALL workers elect politicians that specifically want to dump NAFTA we can turn the tide against greedy corporate America. Challenge all candidates to dump NAFTA for your vote. Take back America and it's jobs. Free trade is NOT free! We the American workers have paid dearly while Wall St. and corporations are reaping HUGE profits.

March 03 2011 at 11:35 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
hi cat

Decent pay, protections against child labor and management abuses are the result of LABOR UNIONS not... NOT because insider type robber barons with twenty year old escorts were so kind and thoughtful of their fellow AMERICAN workers.
Also, with a thriving middle class the entire country has safer streets, nicer homes, shoppers in the stores and a hopeful future. Compare that to what we have now. Boarded up homes, 26 year olds referred to as "children" living off mom and dad cultural devaluation, dollar devaluation and leaders at top levels of government giving away our treasury to illegal alien; at the same time calling our own citizens and taxpaying public workers as liabilities. Some upside down sicko country huh!

March 02 2011 at 4:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
cartra

UNIONS ARE CORRUPT,THEY NEED TO JOIN THE RANKS OF THE TAX PAYER AND BE JUST AS VULNERABLE TO DOWNTURNS JUST AS WE ARE!!

March 02 2011 at 9:47 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Seewcrazy

compromise???? LOL what part of there is no money for compromise don't they understand?

March 01 2011 at 9:42 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
joe

One thing no one has mentioned is that civil service workers are also taxpayers. Working for the government is a career choice not just something to do. Does anyone go to their doctor, lawyer or accountant and tell them they charge too much? Or do you want the best you can get. Low pay and poor benefits get poor workers. If someone goes to school to be a manager and has been laid off was it their choice of jobs not your civil servants. When the private sector was thriving and getting bonuses I didn't hear anyone in private industry say hey these people don't make enough. Now these people have been out of work or had reductions they come to the people that have jobs and want them to give back. Seems hypocritical doesn't it? Are the politicians giving back? Are they giving up their benefits? Are they cutting back on sweetheart deals and contracts they give to their friends? Why can someone here illegally walk into a hospital and get free health care? I can't! Why can someone make more on unemployment than they did while working? These are reasons the taxes are high not civil servants pay and benefits as I said 5 years ago no one gave a damn what civil servants made because the economy was good and most private industry was paid more than a civil servant. Now they are the problem give me a break.

March 01 2011 at 4:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jbucha2511

unions support candidates, and when they are elected the unions are rewarded. unfortunately, taxpayers are the ones who pay for the benefits of state, city and municipal workers. if states and cities are broke and cannot afford to pay all the benefits in the short and long term, the reality is that there have to be changes. this is not union busting.

March 01 2011 at 2:53 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply