By: Amy Lutz
Let’s face it: America is broke. Out of control spending in federal and state governments has driven us into a deep deficit that is almost impossible to escape. Not only is our debt insurmountable, but often, attempts to balance budgets leads to chaos and protesting, as is the case currently in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker has recently introduced a plan to the Republican controlled legislature that would, among other things, curb collective bargaining agreements, force union workers to pay for pensions and healthcare costs, and make Wisconsin a right to work state. In response to this plan, the streets of Madison, Wisconsin share far too many similarities with those of Cairo for comfort. Massive union protests have been raging for about two weeks, and many public school teachers are organizing “sit-ins” and taking sick days in massive numbers, shutting down schools in some cases. Union members are even marching on the home of the governor. Of course, in typical union fashion, this is not exactly a grassroots movement. Many of the union members have been bused in from out of state in order to falsely inflate the number of apparently unhappy “Wisconians” at these protests. Many workers are carrying signs depicting Governor Walker with a Hitler mustache or in the crosshairs. Isn’t this the same type of “heated rhetoric” that the left warned against after the Tucson shooting in January? If we follow their logic, we had better keep an eye out for a Jared Lee Loughner impersonator somewhere in the turbulent tides of Wisconsin protests. Although, despite the chaos that is currently ensuing in the state, Wisconsin, the former home to one of the only two state progressive parties, is beginning to show its conservative side. In addition to Representative Paul Ryan’s attempted fiscal restraint as the head of the Budget Committee in Congress, Governor Scott Walker has begun to make drastic changes to the Wisconsin budget in an attempt to overcome a $3.6 billion shortfall.

Under Governor Walker’s plan, union workers will be required to give 5.8% to the pension system (which is just below the national average) and 12.5% when it comes to healthcare premiums, half of the national average. Walker calls this a “reasonable way to balance the budget without raising taxes” and the healthcare plan alone would save $300 million. Of course, I might be able to see where rising costs might make unions a bit unhappy, but here’s the kicker: most unions in Wisconsin (and across the country) have not made any contribution to the pension system at all for decades. In addition, they only contribute 6% when it comes to healthcare premiums. For many workers in the private sector, this would be paradise. Blue collar workers in Wisconsin are most often paying anywhere between 25%-50% of their healthcare costs and most do not have pensions. Those who do have 401K’s have seen that the contributions from their employers have been suspended in the last year or two in order to preserve jobs in this poor economy. In total, Wisconsin public employees contribute less than 1% to their pensions whereas taxpayers pay almost 100%. Comparatively, the average private sector salary is $19.68 per hour and the average public sector salary is $26.25 per hour. Seventy four percent of private sector workers receive paid sick leave and 8 paid holidays per year, but that number for the public sector is 98%. Lastly, on average, a Wisconsin public school teacher’s total yearly compensation is $78,000 for a 180-day school year. In short, working for the government is a pretty great gig if you can get it. Traditionally, working in the public sector meant you were set for life on the government’s, and therefore the taxpayer’s dime. Now that Governor Walker intends to change that just a little, public sector unions are in an uproar. Heaven forbid they actually pay for their pensions and healthcare costs like the rest of America.

In addition to the changes previously mentioned, Governor Walker intends to make Wisconsin a right to work state, which means that no worker would be forced to join a union, and therefore, forced to pay union dues. The union leadership is particularly angry about this provision because fewer workers equals fewer union dues which in turn means lower salaries for the leaders themselves and less dispensable income to donate to the Dem-oh I mean political parties, but I’ll get to that later. This provision of the proposed plan actually should prove to be very beneficial for many public sector employees.  Not joining a union would allow workers to offset the higher pension and healthcare costs because they would not have to pay massive union dues. Conclusively, if Governor Walker didn’t make drastic cuts in the field of public sector unions, he would almost certainly have to raise taxes in the same manner as Illinois recently did, which would affect all citizens of the state, including both public and private sector employees.

As usual, this debate comes down to logic versus emotion. Logically, cutting the budget in this way will allow Wisconsin to hopefully balance it without raising taxes. Unfortunately, the unions have once again brought in an emotional element, tainting the debate and making it impossible for uniformed Americans to see the issue clearly. It’s always the same: unions agree that cuts need to be made, but if you even come close to touching collective bargaining agreements or union pensions, all hell breaks loose and those on the left paint rosy pictures of hard working public sector employees and teachers who are being “oppressed” by conservative legislators and governors who are doing what needs to be done to balance the budget. Of course, we all value teachers, policemen, firemen, and the like, but that’s not really what this debate is about. It’s about power. The union leadership is worried about losing membership and money and they are fighting back, in some cases, literally. Union leaders use public sector employees as pawns in their giant chess game designed to gain sway economically and politically. All Americans are greatly supportive of teachers and other public sector employees. Good teachers can make all the difference in a child’s life, and they deserve to be compensated fairly for that. Police officers and firemen save countless lives every day, and for that we will always be thankful. Unfortunately, union leaders have always used such honorable work and sacrifices to advance their own political agenda and when they don’t get their way, they whine and give up, taking to the streets and refusing to do their jobs. This “give up” attitude is perfectly personified by the 14 Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature who actually left the state to avoid voting on the governor’s plan instead of having the courage to stand by their convictions. Why can’t they listen to the majority of their constituents who work hard and pay much more than public sector union members do? That’s not to say that union members are not hard working and should be left out of the debate because they shouldn’t be, but neither should there be a silent majority of hard working taxpayers who readily support Governor Walker’s plan. Catering to union leaders is really what gets state and federal governments in trouble.

In addition to power, these public sector union leaders are also swayed by politics. It’s no secret that unions have historically donated huge amounts of money to Democratic candidates. In fact, Andy Stern, former president of the massive union SEIU, was at one time the most frequent visitor to the White House under the Democratic Obama administration. Obama, who spoke out about the Wisconsin protests after admitting that he had not been following the story closely, called Governor Walker’s plan an “assault on unions” despite admitting that “everybody’s got to make some adjustments” (except unions apparently). It would really be nice for once if the President would butt out of state issues (like illegal immigration in Arizona) he knows little about and focus on balancing his own budget, which is perhaps in worse shape than the budget in Wisconsin. Though, we can say that President Obama is at least staying true to the Democratic philosophy that less money for unions equals less money for Democratic candidates.

The efforts made by fiscally conservative governors such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin or Chris Christie in New Jersey should be admired, not protested against. If there were more Scott Walkers and Chris Christies in the country, I can say for certain that we would not be in the fiscal mess we are now because more people would have the guts to make tough decisions in the face of harsh opposition, specifically union protests. I’ll be honest, unions often do more harm than good in this country. Of course the concept of a union designed to protect workers’ rights against massive corporations is honorable, but soon after the development of unions in America, they became the bureaucratic monsters they had originally sought to oppose. If any business ran itself like a public sector union, it would be bankrupt in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, between public sector unions and the government, there is an escape hatch: the taxpayers. Taxpayers in this country are responsible for funding the out of control machines that are public sector unions and government bureaucracies. This self-perpetuating system runs on the taxes of every hard working American, regardless of whether they work in the public or private sector, but that is hopefully about to change. As I stated in the introduction, we’re broke. State and federal governments have spent our money frivolously for years and now we literally have to pay for it. They made their beds, now we all have to sleep in them. With the work of conservatives like Walker and Christie, hopefully we can turn back the clock on government spending and reclaim the American ideal of limited government of, by, and for the people.