State budget cuts should not target public employees
Correction appended below.
This week, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison were given an instruction by the editorial board of The Badger Herald: “At 10 a.m., drop everything.”
These students, our peers, find themselves in the state capital that has quickly become the epicenter of a series of troubling resolution attempts to remedy state budget problems. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker supports a bill that has proposed that public workers—including teachers and state university employees—contribute more toward their health insurance and pensions. Walker also wants to weaken most public-sector unions by sharply curtailing their collective bargaining rights, limiting negotiations to the subject of basic wages.
Currently, collective bargaining rights for unions enable union members to negotiate other job-related issues, such as working hours, training, health and safety, overtime and grievance mechanisms. The proposed bill would do away with these union powers—an especially staggering thought when put in context with a study conducted in 2011 by the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University. The study states that public sector employees in Wisconsin already earn less in both wages and total compensation than their private sector equivalents.
We do not intend to take a stand on the efficacy of unions; however, we do earnestly believe that many public sector employees, especially public school teachers and public university teaching assistants, are already underpaid. We believe that these employees deserve a voice and a seat at the table that governs them, and we support the thousands of UW students who have taken a stand against Walker’s bill in the Capitol.
We feel that this issue is especially important and relevant because it is not confined to Madison. Budget cuts are a real necessity in states across the Midwest, and many are turning to cutting public pay and bargaining rights in order to make them possible. Last week in Columbus, workers protested outside the Statehouse to rally against a bill that would limit collective bargaining for state employees in Ohio. In Indiana, teachers protested a bill that would limit collective bargaining for teachers’ unions. And in Tennessee, a similar bill was considered by a legislative committee.
With educational inequality on the rise, cutting the benefits and bargaining rights of public school teachers—already often overworked and under-qualified because of the limited appeal of the profession—is a regrettable political decision that must be stopped before it starts.
We can’t tell you “At 10 a.m., drop everything.” We can’t tell you that the very institution you attend is in jeopardy because of what’s happening in Madison. The fact that we attend private school, however, need not take away from our degree of public engagement.
What we can tell you is that if you, like us, value the equality of opportunity provided by public education—if you, like us, believe that our country needs to make a decided commitment, in some way or another, to eliminating educational inequality—then it is worth your while to take a stand against the bill in Wisconsin in some way. That this could be as simple as bringing it up in a conversation with friends or as complex as getting to know the regulations surrounding teachers’ unions right here in St. Louis. If you are from a state with a proposed bill, write to your state representative. But in any case, remember that it is up to our generation to take action.
Correction: In the original posting of the article, it was reported the the governor is Wisconsin is Scott Morris. It is Scott Walker. Student Life regrets the error.