Epstein on Wisconsin Labor Battle
All too many of my recent columns have lamented the threat that public unions pose to the long-term political and financial stability of state government. Operating in their current pampered legal environment, unions have extracted extravagant settlements that are unsustainable in the long run. Now it turns out they are unsustainable in the short run as well. Tomorrow has become today as the ever-rising sea of red ink from union pensions and benefits overwhelms state budgets.
The rubber has now hit the road with the spate of overdue state initiatives to cut back on the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Ground zero is the extraordinary political spectacle in Wisconsin, where the Democrats took leave of the state (as well as their senses) once it became clear that they lacked the votes to stop Governor Scott Walker’s program to deflate the collective bargaining system for teachers. The governor has moved on two fronts. The first involves rolling back the oversized pensions and benefits that Wisconsin teachers currently enjoy. The second addresses the more basic question of why issues should be determined by collective bargaining in the first place. The bus-loads of union supporters from far and wide have their misshapen priorities correct. They know in their nervous bones that the second issue dwarfs the first.
Part of the pushback against Governor Walker was organized not in Madison, Wisconsin, but in Washington, D.C., spurred on by President Barack Obama, who has rightly treated Walker’s proposals as an "assault" on the labor movement. What Obama should have added is that this assault is long overdue. In principle, the deep problem with Walker’s proposal is that it seeks only to undermine state collective bargaining. The correct approach—in principle—is to kill off the beast once and for all across state lines, before it kills off everyone else.