The Wisconsin recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker is not going quite like the unions and the Democratic Party expected. Back in 2011, many pundits thought that the governor had overreached when he took on public employee unions, restricting -- though not eliminating -- collective bargaining rights. But he did so because he inherited a state in dire financial shape with a deficit of $3.6 billion and public employee pensions and benefits that threatened to bankrupt the state.
When a Republican-controlled legislature tried to pass legislation to rein in the abuses, Democratic representatives literally fled the state to make a vote impossible. As a result of some clever parliamentary footwork that separated fiscal items in the bill so that a quorum would not be required to pass the legislation, Walker managed to get the bill passed. The unions sued, unsuccessfully, and the bill became law, incurring the wrath of Wisconsin's powerful unions -- public and private sector. They launched a successful recall petition drive and, for awhile, it looked like Walker might pay for his temerity with his job.
The latest polls in the state show Walker in the lead against his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by 5-8 points. What's more, Walker has raised vastly more funds than Barrett, some $25 million to Barrett's $831,000 (though unions and Democratic groups will spend much more on his behalf). But the real problem for Barrett is that Walker's medicine, though unpleasant for many union members, has helped bring the state's economy back to a more healthy position.
Even in a heavily union state like Wisconsin, union membership is tiny compared to the total labor force. And when it comes to public employees, most taxpayers realize that they are actually footing the bill for salaries and benefits, which more often than not exceed their own.
When many workers have no health insurance, they may feel chagrined at having to fork over more taxes to pay for Cadillac policies for union members whose own healthcare contributions are much smaller. When most employees get two weeks paid vacation if they're lucky, they may resent paying full time salaries to teachers who work only nine months a year and spend only five hours a day in the classroom with weeklong holidays, professional development and snow days off.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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