Walker Challenged Unions, Survived
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker just won a first term in office for a second
time – by a margin greater than his 2010 victory.
In his first election, Walker beat only a Democratic opponent. In the
second, he defeated the same opponent, plus the national Democratic Party
and public service unions that organized and funded Walker’s recall election
and sent Wisconsin legions of carpetbaggers from throughout America to
Walker and a Republican Legislature asked public workers to pay 12.6 percent
of their health insurance premiums and put 5.8 percent of their compensation
toward their pensions, modest sums compared with those typically paid by
private sector workers.
In 2010, Wisconsin taxpayers paid 99.2 percent ($1.5 billion) of public
servants’ pension costs while employees contributed just 0.8 percent ($12
million) of the total.
Before reforms, taxpayers contributed 94 percent of government workers’
health care premiums, a number merely reduced to 87.6 percent.
But Walker’s greatest offense was in taking on union monopolies in state
Walker challenged the unions and survived.
Walker’s larger winning margin in the recall election might be more
significant than the victory itself, because governors and legislatures in
other states similarly impoverished by union pay and benefits will be
encouraged to emulate Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature.
The recall election was a test of the public’s ability to rein in
entitlements and special interests. In Wisconsin, at least, the public won.
Historically liberal, in 1959, the Badger State was the first to permit
government employees to unionize. Wisconsin was the incubator of the
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which
has extended its reach across America, including in Pennsylvania.
AFSCME is a white-collar union whose members typically earn above-average
median incomes with generous benefits, often more than private sector
AFSME, teachers unions such as the National Education Association, and
other, similar, public employee unions have become the most powerful lobbies
in America. They have amassed their influence by generous campaign
contributions to the politicians with whom they "negotiate" their
compensation and benefits.
In effect, the unions sit on both sides of the bargaining table. It’s a
classic case of one hand washing the other at the expense of the general
interests of taxpayers.
There are lessons for Pennsylvania in the Wisconsin outcome.
Walker’s reforms gave public service employees choices. Reforms included
ending the state’s practice of payroll deduction of union dues, making
payment voluntary. In Wisconsin, AFSCME membership fell from nearly 63,000
in March 2011 to under 29,000 in February, saving workers dues totaling up
to a thousand dollars a year each.
Before reform, Wisconsin unions enjoyed indefinite certification. Unions
certified 50 years ago still represented workplaces where no current
employees had voted for them. Now unions must hold recertification elections
annually, forcing them to earn workers’ votes.
Walker’s reforms also have been good for taxpayers and Wisconsin’s economy.
Statewide, property taxes fell by 0.4 percent in 2011.
Walker’s office estimates that reforms have saved Wisconsin taxpayers more
than $1 billion as school districts renegotiated labor contracts and health
care policies from a union-owned monopoly insurance provider.
Walker’s inherited $3.2 billion deficit will become a small surplus next
year without a tax increase. A recent survey released by Wisconsin business
analysts reported that 62 percent of state employers plan to add employees
during the next six months. Overall, 73 percent of employers surveyed
predicted moderate to good growth, and more than half said they plan to
expand in Wisconsin in the next two years.
The unions and the Democratic Party correctly viewed the Wisconsin recall
election as a zero-sum game. When Big Labor loses, the Democratic Party
loses, too. Nationalizing the Wisconsin recall as they did ensured that the
rest of America was watching and took lessons from the results.
Little noticed among the Wisconsin recall hoopla was the metaphorical
whipping the Republican establishment took. Walker ran twice as a tea party
candidate and governed accordingly. Walker said what he would do in office.
He kept his word, and he survived recall.
Walker is precisely the sort of candidate the GOP hierarchy tells us cannot
win elections in America.
Wisconsin proved the GOP establishment wrong – twice.
Jerry Shenk writes from West Hanover Twp. [email protected]