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.

  • Jerome Bauer

    I sent this letter to the editor on Sunday, February 20, 20ll, out of frustration. I did not really expect Studlife would publish it, but I did expect some kind of response. Here it is, I guess.

    Which side are you on? I asked. Are you paying attention? I asked. Here is the answer. They got the Wisconsin governor’s name wrong, in the first draft. Pathetic, isn’t it? Evidently you have not been paying attention, and cannot make up your minds. Why does this not surprise me? Here is my letter:

    Which side are you on?

    Dear Editors:

    I read with amusement your staff editorial, “Our suggestions for Student Union executive slates” (2/16/11). This ironic and self-satirizing editorial is hardly crystal clear, but I don’t think I missed the three main points, reading between the lines:
    1) Green Action should put up or shut up.
    2) We should all move to some bipartisan center of the road,
    3) Student Life cannot represent the interests of the entire student and alumni community, despite its best intentions and tongue in cheek posturing.
    I agree only with the last point. For one reason, you provide coverage of Student Union politics ad nauseam, but you completely ignore graduate student government, and graduate students in general. For another, the Student Life editorial board seems to have taken a turn to the right on worker’s rights. As I write this, you have still not run an article or editorial on the demonstrations ongoing in Wisconsin and Ohio. You pay attention to Egypt. Are you not paying attention to this? How long will it take for you to get back on the labor bandwagon, sincerely I hope? Which side are you on?
    I have been a constant reader, frequent contributor, and commentator on Student Lifes since 1999. I remain a fan, but I really believe a vigorous alternative student press would enhance campus life, and provide you with some healthy competition. I can remember when Washington University spoke with many more voices.
    How about some coverage of local union building and union busting activities?

    Jerome Bauer
    Lecturer in Religious Studies, 1999-2007
    Washington University Cooperative Network Co-Founder and Resident Member, 2003-present
    Initiative for Lecturer’s Policy Reform and Fairer Deals for Adjuncts, 2003-present
    Rank and File Member, American Federation of Teachers, 2009-present

  • gubmit

    sadly images are not supported in comments, but this cartoon really sums up the situation better than I ever could.

  • Sohrab

    For the record, the name of Wisconsin’s governor is Scott Walker, not Morris.

  • Coop

    Things have to change. Wisconsin cannot spend more than they bring in. It’s that simple. They workers cannot reasonably expect that the government is going to continue to pay for 88% of their health care costs. It’s simply not sustainable in today’s environment. I have to pay a significant portion of my health care costs. I went for a year without a pay raise. These public employees have to share in some of the pain too or else the system will not be fixed.

    • Sohrab

      Here’s the thing: the teachers agreed to pay those costs, and all the other parts of the bill provided they could keep collective bargaining rights. Walker refused. His agenda is union busting, not fixing the budget.

  • Amanda

    As a Wisconsinite, a future public school teacher, and the daughter of a government employee in a union, I appreciate the sentiments. However, our miserable excuse for a governor is named Scott WALKER, not Morris!