Don’t blame labor for budget

The state of Wisconsin is grounding its children, taking away their dessert and packing on extra chores. The punishment probably belongs to the kid next door, and it comes with a bitter message, ‘this is good for you.’

The adolescents of the Badger State are taking a lashing from their newly elected governor, Scott Walker, and the state Assembly, and the bargaining rights of public sector employees are reaching their final minutes. The calls from the state’s leading Republicans contain valid logic but have critics begging for more transparency.

"The battle is about our commitment to the future," Walker told the Wisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce trade group on Feb. 23. "A commitment so that my children and your children and children all across this state aren’t saddled with the burden of excessive debt and out-of-control spending that this past generation just passed on to today’s generation."

Walker’s proposal would curb unions for public workers; a move that he claimed would provide certainty for future finances and would alleviate some of the burdens attached to higher health and pension costs. By the way, those increased costs are also courtesy of Papa Walker.

His logic is to push the costs of these benefits off the state and on to the workers and, as an unfortunate casualty, to cost those very workers their right to unionization. In other words, the judge of an eternal game of tug-of-war between employers and employees just shot labor in the knee and asked business if another wound was necessary.

This would be fine 200 years ago, but the history of power in this game has evolved to favor employees, and rulings by the judicial system have consistently defended unions so long as their actions and purposes were not criminal in nature.

In 1806, the Philadelphia Mayor’s Court found an organized group of shoemakers guilty of conspiring in a criminal fashion and fined each defendant one week’s wage. The criminals received their lovely title after striking for higher wages, and the court set the precedent that picketing unions were illegal conspirators. This case, Commonwealth v. Pullis, is recognized as the first recorded American labor relations issue resolved in a courtroom.

Nearly 40 years later, in 1842, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts reversed the Pullis precedent and claimed that unions and their bargaining practices were not criminal or illegal, unless their actions or purposes were criminal. The discussion on this subject has since evolved into a craft of wordsmiths and clever ideologists, answering the question of ‘what is criminal?’ in the most preposterous of ways.

This discussion, however, has turned moot in America’s Dairyland; the state with the one-word motto, "Forward," is marching toward a one-sided relationship, and daddy-dearest wants to enforce this power legislatively.

Unfortunately, federal written law does not protect unionized public labor—that is left up to the individual state which, in this instance, is the particular issue up for debate.. The National Labor Relations Board, established by the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, was formed to protect the interests of employers and employees, and to mediate potential instances of discrimination. However, the National Labor Relations Act explicitly declares government bodies as not being covered under the term "employer." Thus, the working class, bargain-refused state employees of Wisconsin are without written federal support.

Walker, at the trade group meeting, revealed who he thought the actual warriors were in this battle: his administration and labor leaders, many of whom hail from other states.

"This is a battle with big unions," Walker said. "[They] are trying to come in and dominate this debate from out of this state because it’s not about their workers money it’s about their money."

It sounds like little Timmy just got a mouthful of soap because the neighbor’s brat said a foul word. But there may be more to the story than just punishment being served to the wrong customer. James Kelleher of Reuters reported on Feb. 23 that some of Walker’s critics claimed he took campaign donations in 2010 from out-of-state, anti-bargaining rights conservative groups. It turns out the PTA is pressuring Papa Walker to lay the smack down on little Timmy.

The immediate future of Wisconsin’s public labor appears tumultuous, and there is a growing fear that poor parenting will become contagious around the U.S. neighborhood, but, in the long-term, state employee’s rights will almost certainly be rescued—the nature of politics in a quasi-democratic system deem it so.

Hopefully the Wisconsinites can tough it out, continue to demonstrate their displeasure with daddy dictator and preserve through adversity. The majority of the country, the history of labor relations and the future of labor laws are almost certainly in your corner, waiting to call child services.