The standoff between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Democrats in the State Senate has been going on for two weeks and may last for weeks or even months longer.
The issue at hand is a bill - which has already passed the Wisconsin House of Representatives - which will seriously restrict the right of state employees to collectively bargain.
In order to stop the State Senate from voting on the legislation, the Dems high-tailed it out of Wisconsin and are holed up in neighboring Illinois. Why? Because Wisconsin State Police can compel their attendance at the State Capitol.
But, Wisconsin State Police have no jurisdiction in Illinois, and the State of Illinois has no grounds to send the Senators back to Wisconsin.
As reporters David Bailey and Stefanie Carano wrote in their Reuters piece yesterday,
"What began as a dispute in Wisconsin between a Republican governor and state labor unions has grown into what could be the biggest confrontation with organized labor since President Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981."
A union representing employees in a commercial entity - a car company, or a grocery chain - have a built-in regulator on how much they can demand. If they ask for more than the company can afford; the company goes out of business and everyone loses their jobs.
Not a good recommendation for recruiting future union members.
However, there is no upward limit to what unions who represent public employees can demand. The States of Wisconsin, or New Jersey, or even California are not going to go out of business. It may cost more to borrow money and other services might have to be cut, but the unions can demand more and more and more.
The teachers have already folded on the pay issue and having to pay at least a small amount toward their health care. They are adamant about maintaining their collective bargaining rights: tenure issues, merit pay, and the like.
The big deal, though, is that the bill would stop the practice of the State of Wisconsin being the dues collector for the teachers' union. In Wisconsin teachers' union dues total between $700 and $1,000 a year. Teachers have no choice but to pay.
A good deal of that money is used to back Democrats running for public office. Democrats want that money to continue flowing.
Rich Lowry, writing in the New York Post claimed,
"When Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels ended collective bargaining and the automatic collection of dues in 2005, the number of members paying dues plummeted by roughly 90 percent."
When Gov. Walker unveiled his budget yesterday, there was the expected wailing and rending of flesh in the popular press including the New York Times which claimed in its headline that the budget would "slash" school aid.
Buried deep in the piece was the acknowledgement that the budget cut eight percent from school districts. Not eighty percent. Eight.
If you work for a private company - meaning not a government - and your boss told you that in order to keep your job, you were going to have to help him find eight percent in overall savings, I suspect you could do that. You could probably get close just being more mindful of how much electricity the company uses.
Here's a good idea: Require school districts to attain at least half of their budget cuts through environmentally friendly activities - turning off lights, lowering the school temperature a few degrees, caulking windows and door frames; and adding insulation, among other things.
Not only would that have the effect of burning less coal to produce electricity, but it would split the natural alliance between environmentalists and unions.
Win, as they say, win.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are 14.7 million American workers who belong to a union. That's out of about 123.5 million workers. To show you why unions are so desperate to hold on to what they have, the BLS reports that in 1983 there were 17.7 million workers who belonged to unions - three million more - out of a workforce of only about 88 million - 35 million less.
Put another way, in '83 over 20 percent of the workforce were union members. Today that's reduced to only 11.9 percent. And it is continuing to fall.
Union leaders will pull out every trick to try and stop Gov. Walker from winning this fight, but in the end I think he will prevail and Wisconsin's public unions will lose their free pass to taxpayers' bank accounts.