Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Voice Of Public Workers

During any given week, millions of people will watch the news to see what’s happening in Washington D.C., New York, Hollywood, and The Middle East. However, for the past week, we’ve been watching, with great interest, the goings on in Wisconsin. Wisconsin? The place with the cheese hats? Yes, that’s the place, and what happens there may very well set a precedent for the rest of America.

To quickly recap, Wisconsin’s, Koch brothers backed, governor, Scott Walker, announced last week that in order to close a $137 million budget gap, he would make cuts to public employees’ pay and benefits, and limit the rights of collective bargaining, essentially breaking up the public employee unions in Wisconsin. In response to this proposal, thousands of angry public employees stormed the capitol, and began a ‘round the clock protest. When it was clear that Republicans had the votes to pass the proposal, Democrat lawmakers fled to prevent a legal quorum from being convened. Then, as if deploying an army of Pinkerton agents, Governor Walker sent the state police to drag the Democrats back to the capitol, forcing the legislators to hide in an undisclosed location in Illinois.

This mess is only the most visible by-product of a nation wide effort to curtail the bargaining rights of public employees, and has little, if anything, to do with balancing budgets. Keep in mind, union leaders in Wisconsin have acknowledged budgetary short-falls, and have agreed to the proposed cuts in pay and benefits. The only sticking point left is the issue of bargaining rights. While the unions have offered a two year moratorium on bargaining, Governor Walker refuses to negotiate.

While the stand off drags on in Wisconsin’s capitol, Hillsboro’s teachers are trying to negotiate their contract as well. The district has proposed the elimination of step pay raises until further notice, and initially proposed the addition of an unpaid day of work to the school year. In response, the Hillsboro Education Association added up the number of hours teachers contribute to their jobs (correcting papers, writing lesson plans, etc…) off the clock. They found that teachers already collectively contribute 10,878 unpaid hours to Hillsboro’s schools each year.

If people such as Governor Walker have their way, and public employees are stripped of their voice, teachers and other professionals will have no recourse when agencies and school districts, such as Hillsboro, try to require more work for equal or less pay. The only safeguard these employees have is the collective bargaining power of their unions. If that safeguard is removed, highly qualified people will have no incentive to hold public sector jobs.

Do we want the best trained and qualified people we can find to be teaching are children and providing essential services, or do we want our teachers and civil servants to be the people who couldn’t find a job anywhere else? If we want top notch people in those jobs, the jobs have to be desirable.

No comments:

Post a Comment