Most people in the national media and virtually everyone on the left, seem to think that because the heads of WEAC and AFSCME agreed to the monetary concessions, the debate is over. Our favorite Nobel laureate agrees:
Gov. Scott Walker claims that he needs to pass his bill to deal with the state’s fiscal problems. But his attack on unions has nothing to do with the budget. In fact, those unions have already indicated their willingness to make substantial financial concessions — an offer the governor has rejected.
What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting.There is a lot more in Krugman's piece to take apart, but I'll save that for later. The point I want to make is that this entire argument is divorced from reality. The leaders of the state public employees unions cannot negotiate for all of their members. They cannot enter into any agreement that would be automatically binding for all their members.
WEAC is composed of 650 local bargaining units in more than 400 school districts. AFT Wisconsin - the other teachers union which includes a lot of other public employees - has dozens of local councils and 17,000 members. AFSCME has more than 66,000 members and more than 600 locals spread across three major councils.
In order for the argument that the left and the unions are making to work, each and every one of the 1,300-plus local units would have to vote to agree to these conditions. Each and every one would have to agree, and even then it would only be for the length of one contract. We have already seen that this is simply not going to happen. Local unions like the one at MATC scrambled to push through a contract that still required no pension contribution and a mere fraction of the cost of health care premiums. Why should we assume that this would be the only one?
State union leaders can say whatever they like, but when contracts come up for negotiation, their local unions can do whatever they please. If we are to get serious about the pay and benefits of public employees, we must take these steps. We cannot, as the Governor has said repeatedly, kick the can down the road.
Our present situation is the cumulative result of failures by Republicans and Democrats alike. In the 1990's Gov. Thompson placated the unions by agreeing to much of the current benefits. Over the past 8 years, Gov. Doyle rewarded his political benefactors by sparing them from the pain of the recession. We can no longer pretend that the crisis is imagined.
Gov. Walker was elected in part because he promised to lead and act boldly to put Wisconsin back on the path to greatness. He has had his stumbles and mistakes, but in the end he has given us a clear choice and a clear path for the future. Do we postpone this conflict yet again, for the sake of compromise, or do we stand firm and make the tough choices that former leaders refused to face?