17 Comments

A View from Wisconsin: Guest Blogger!

Guest post today from my friend Corey Andreasen, a high school math/stats teacher in Wisconsin. I know Corey from grading AP Statistics exams the last few summers. As worldviews go, we’re pretty different, but I know Corey well enough to know that he is a good teacher who cares about his students, and about doing his job well. He is a man of integrity, and I have valued his perspective the last week or so as someone who is on the inside of the issues in Wisconsin, and knows what is going on. He is not a teacher who doesn’t keep track of how things really work with collective bargaining and the interplay between his union and the administration, nor does he allow his position to cloud his willingness to acknowledge the reality of the situation in which he finds himself (and many other teachers and other state employees find themselves) with regards to the political and economic climate of the times. I asked him if he would be kind enough to take some time to write out the facts of the situation, since he knows them better than anyone else I know personally, and share some perspective as well. I offered him the option of sharing anonymously, which he emphatically turned down (as I expected he would). In his words: Please do not post this anonyously. I am proud to be a teacher, I’m very good at it, and I’m tired of having to justify the fact that I get paid for my work. Feel free to share that, too! 🙂 As a fellow teacher, I know where that comes from. We teachers work hard, and those of us in mathematics, statistics, and related disciplines could make a lot more money doing almost anything else with our skills. Corey and I share a passion for teaching, and both strive to be excellent at what we do.

Full disclosure: I am generally not pro-union. I am registered Republican, but never simply check to vote that way in its entirety. The current polarization of politics is harmful and hurtful, in my view. The point of sharing this is not to convince anyone of anything in particular, other than that we should be careful to hear each other before responding. We should also be careful to avoid stereotyping our political opponents, even as we would hope to avoid being the victims of stereotypes ourselves. As most of my readers are on the outside of this debate, it may be easy, almost unavoidably tempting, to offer our uninformed perspective based on what we have read or seen, without really knowing the truth at all. I hope that any dialogue that this sparks will be civil, and aimed at better understanding each other. Certainly, we are unlikely to “solve” the issues here, but if we can begin to truly listen and value the other, that would be a start. Also, I know that this is not simply about teachers. This bill affects any union of state employees (with a few notable exceptions), including graduate teaching assistants at public universities like the University of Wisconsin. We don’t currently have any grad students there from our department, but if this spreads it could affect a number of my former students at public universities (NC State, Ohio State, and Colorado State, among others).

NOTE: What appears below is in Corey’s words. Except for a few typographical edits, nothing has been changed, nor any emphasis added. I am posting his thoughts in his words. My reaction is after his post. Between the breaks, everything is his.

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I would like to share my perspective on what is going on here in Wisconsin. I will first lay out some facts, then I will get into my opinions of the situation. Please understand how emotional this issue is and be a little forgiving if some of that spills into the parts I am trying to present as fact.

First, our budget was in reasonably good shape in Wisconsin. Not fantastic, but it was worse two years ago. Our new Republican governor stepped in and immediately gave 140 million dollars in business tax credits to, well, businesses and political supporters. (Opinion here: I am not opposed to incentives to bring business to our state and help them flourish in principle. That can be a very good thing. I’m not in favor of paying off campaign contributions with them.) But now we have a 137 million dollar shortfall, and his solution to balance that budget is this budget repair bill. And notice how closely those numbers match up?

In the bill are provisions that say public workers need to pay their ‘fair share’ of health care and pensions, to bring it in line with what people pay in the private sector. The fact is that public employees pay ALL of their health care, and they do it with a model that would really benefit the private sector. (OK, that last part is opinion, but listen.) The unions negotiate a total compensation package for the work we do. Then they say, “Out of that pot, take out x dollars and put it toward our health care, and take y dollars and put it toward our pensions. Then, and only then, let’s see what’s left for salary. So it all comes out of the negotiated package. Every dollar put toward benefits comes right off the amount we get in salary. We pay every penny. That’s not opinion, that’s fact. And it’s a win-win. The employees don’t have to pay income tax on that amount. The employer doesn’t have to pay FICA on that amount, because it doesn’t go in as salary. Please let people know that the ‘free health care’ and ‘free pensions’ idea is a mischaracterization. And, in Wisconsin, public employees make less than private sector employees in similar jobs, with similar educational backgrounds, etc.

This bill wants to take away that amount that was designated to go toward health care and have it come out of the part that’s salary, even though it was all part of our negotiated package. That means cuts of maybe $5,000 per year per employee. That means losing homes for many people. Or, if you want to say that the health care is paid by taxpayers, you must also realize that all public salaries are paid by taxpayers. Because we work for the taxpayers! And we do important work.

But that’s not what the protests are about. The protests are about the provisions of the bill that have zero impact on the budget. For example, there is a provision that unions cannot collectively bargain about anything other than salary. We can’t even discuss the length of the work day, occupational safety, class size or the number of classes we teach in a day (for teachers), tuition remission for graduate students (Yes, graduate students are affected by this bill.), number of patients or number or length of shifts for nurses, case load for social workers, whether road workers will get steel-toed boots: anything.

(I would like to point out that the working conditions described above are not only about the workers. My students learn best when I can be at my best as a teacher: when I have time to adequately prepare lessons, time to grade papers and provide feedback in a timely fashion, and time to contact parents to discuss how their children are performing. Patients get better care when their nurses are not working 16 hour shifts or trying to manage too many patients at a time. When we bargain collectively, many things we negotiate are things that allow us to perform our jobs better.)

Also, currently non-union members who are employees are still required to pay dues to the union. That is because, whether they are union members or not, they get the benefits of the union’s collective bargaining. They get the same salary, health benefits, pension, working conditions, everything. So they pay the dues. There is a provision in this bill that says unions cannot require such payments.

And, there is a provision that unions must have a vote each year on whether they can stay organized as a union.

Oh, and firefighters, state troopers, and police (The groups that supported the governor’s campaign) are exempted from these union provisions.

It’s those last provisions about unions that are inspiring the protests. It is unfair, it erases 80 years of progress on worker rights in one bill, and those provisions have NO budgetary impact. Make no mistake. These protests are not about money. We knew we were in for cuts. That’s the grim reality of the times. This is about the assault on collective bargaining rights, and that has no bearing on the budget, and no place in a budget repair bill.

These are the facts. These are the reasons you are seeing thousands – now tens of thousands – of workers storming the state capitol. This is why the firefighters and police and plumbers unions and the Coalition of Wisconsin Churches are standing with us, even though they are not affected by this the bill.

Now we’re going to wade into my commentary. The monetary portions of this bill will cause many working people who are barely making ends meet to lose their homes. There’s already a mortgage crisis, and families will be put out of their homes. It is tragic when people are laid off and lose their homes. But when people who have been working a job, carefully planning and making a living and a home for their families, still have that job and still work 40 hours a week start to lose their homes, that’s injustice.

$5000 a year is a big hit. $500 a year would be felt, but would not cause drastic changes in behavior. $5000 a year will cause every family affected to sit down and ask, “What can we cut?” Buying clothes, going out to dinner, cable TV, trips to the dentist. A few hundred thousand people across the state making these sorts of adjustments will definitely have an impact on private businesses. The analysis I read estimates that 9400 private sector jobs would be lost as an impact of this bill.

And it gets worse. School districts don’t see a penny of the money saved from these concessions from the teachers’ union. These concessions are supposed to balance the state budget. School districts, already faced with huge shortfalls, are still going to have to make additional cuts.

In spite of all this, our union leaders went to Walker and said, “OK we’ll concede all the money stuff. We’ll pay our ‘fair share’ (as if we don’t). Just take the collective bargaining language out.” Walker refused. So is this really about the budget?

Can  Rush Limbaugh, who makes $50 million dollars a year really call teachers, nurses, and the firefighters – the same firefighters who were looked at as heroes after 9/11, remember the FDNY hats? – he called these people freeloaders? What’s this really about? Why would 80 years of progress in the treatment of workers be on the chopping block in one week?

It is clear to me that this is all about breaking the unions. Not because of the economy, not because of any belief about how labor should function, but for one reason: The unions are the ONLY big financial supporters of democrats. Get rid of the unions and all big money for campaigns is on the Republican side. And this isn’t for one election, this is forever.

Democracy works when there is balance. The big money and special interests in the elections is destructive. But at least there’s money on both sides. When one voice is silenced there is no democracy. We become a one-party nation. We become Iran. Anybody who loves democracy, anybody who loves this country and what it stands for must see that prospect as dangerous.

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Another point that Corey doesn’t bring out is that the law would prevent any union (except those exempted) from asking for more than a cost of living increase. Really?! How would you like it if your boss told you at your performance review that as a starting point, regardless of how well you performed last year you may not even ask for more than a cost of living increase. That basically says that even the best teachers will be losing ground to inflation every year. Again, really?! This seems like an overzealous, reactionary stance, at best. At worst it is a mean-spirited attempt to punish union membership.

I tend to agree with Corey’s assessment in the last couple of paragraphs. It does seem that this is targeted at the unions, and the link to campaign money seems inescapable. I’d like to think it was something else, but I have a hard time seeing a real budget connection given the unions essentially admitting defeat on the dollars in the budget. Also, I hate the big money part of campaigning already, but I fail to see how cutting off the gravy train on one side solves the issue. As I said, I am not generally pro-union, so I am not saying this in some kind of attempt to promote the unions. We do not have a union here at Messiah, and I’ve never thought of this as a real need. Still, I don’t know that I can argue that they are always without merit. I do object to some of the things I’ve seen some unions argue for, but that hardly seems justification for throwing out the whole system.

As a Christian, workers working together to argue for better working conditions, fair pay, and other benefits doesn’t seem like something I can be against, at least in principal. No, I’m not sure teachers are amongst the least of these, but if a prophet is worthy of his pay, teachers are certainly worthy of theirs too. Certainly they deserve more pay than actors and sports stars, at least in my book. I know that is a battle I’ll never win, but talking about teachers as money-hungry freeloaders seems crazy, entirely unjustified, and hurtful.

Perhaps the bigger issue is whether the governor and republicans pushing this bill through have required of themselves the same belt-tightening that they are asking of others. Has the governor agreed to freeze or reduce his pay? Have the Wisconsin congress members agreed to reduce their pay to cover more of their benefits and pension? If they are asking this of others, they should be leading by example. None of the articles I have read address this. Anyone know more about this?

Other thoughts? Questions for Corey? (I cannot promise how actively he’ll be checking in and responding, but we can ask!) Please remember that we are not (or at least should not be) debating the value of the people involved. The issues here appear to be the motivation behind the bill, whether undercutting the unions is legal or advisable, and whether this is really an issue on which compromise is impossible.

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17 comments on “A View from Wisconsin: Guest Blogger!

  1. Please note a post I put up earlier today from politifact that fact checks the claim that the $137 million shortfall is due to the $140 million tax cuts. I think that’s a bit of spin that comes out of some pro-union press.

    That said, I agree that a lot of what is being asked of union folks in Wisconsin seems unfair and damaging to the economic health of a lot of those people. I sympathize and understand. However, what gets lost in that is the already damaged economic health of many people in Wisconsin and across this country who have had to take many kinds of cuts, short cuts, increases, etc, across the chin. I don’t want to use the phrase “it’s not fair” because I feel that is being used way too much lately by both sides.

    But I am concerned about an apparent double standard in the rhetoric. It seems that in many situations, people are being asked to make cuts, make concessions, do with less, tighten the belt, etc., in order to allow the economic factors to stabilize and to help to make up for the deficits on the federal, state, and local levels. From increases in taxes, to reductions of benefits, to even loss of benefits and/or jobs, a lot of people are being forced to do with less, in many cases a LOT less, due to the economic situation.

    Politics aside, whether you are GOP or Dem, whether you are pro-union or against, it comes down to we all need to make sacrifices. The bill put up in Wisconsin can be interpreted in a LOT of different ways. Corey is applying an interpretation from one perspective, I have an interpretation from another. Neither perspective, by itself, is completely true because we have a lens through which we are viewing it, biased and colored with emotion and history and self-interest.

    Point of fact, part of my perspective is that, due to the economic down turn, I have not had even a COLA in 2 and a half years. And, according to industry standards, I’m already making approximately 20% less than most people in my position in my geographic area with my level of experience. Meanwhile, my health insurance contribution that I need to make has gone up, gas prices have gone up, grocery bills have gone up, heating oil has gone up, etc. My company stopped contributing any matching to my 401k and, because of the increase in my expenses, I couldn’t contribute any myself. From month to month, Heather and I have had to figure out creative ways of trimming from our family budget all sorts of little perks and such, cutting back on services, reducing budget allottments for clothing, shoes, entertainment, and groceries, etc.

    This is my perspective. So, when I hear about a bill that is asking the employees of the state government to have to make the same kinds of concessions that I’ve had to make in my life, I sympathize because I’ve been there, but at the same time I recognize in what the government is trying to do the same sort of things that the HR department has had to do with my own company. There’s only so much that can be absorbed in cost before either costs or payroll needs to be cut. We laid off 11 people at the beginning of 2010 because we couldn’t find anything more that could be cut…in perspective, that’s more than 10% of our workforce.

    No, it’s not pleasant. Yes, it’s going to be hard on a lot of people. Honestly, I think I HAVE had to absorb, in the past 2 years, approximately $5000 per year in reduction of my salary and benefits. It was unpleasant, hard, and stressful. But it’s doable. And it helped to keep my company afloat.

    We have come to the point in the economic woes of our country where, as President Obama said some time ago, “We all have skin in the game.” I’ve given of my skin. What is being asked of the unions in Wisconsin is to give some of their own skin. I wish it didn’t have to be so. But, it is a realistic truth that something has to give. And as for the collective bargaining stuff, while it doesn’t fix financial stuff in the immediate future, it puts in place controls to prevent similar stuff in the further off future. It’s planning and looking beyond the immediate, kinda like what we’ve done here at my home company in shifting people over from a PPO health plan to a HPHD health plan so that we can more easily absorb economic factors in the future and potentially not have to face emergency factors as we did in the last two years.

    The question I ask of everyone when such budget debates come up, a question that when I ask it, I rarely hear a response, is this: If not the proposed cuts and changes, then what else to you propose to close the gap? I give the stipulation that raising taxes is not an option (increased taxes translates to increased cost to employers which translates to increased cost to consumers which reduces spending which reduces consumption and reduced income to employers which means tax base goes down, etc.). No one WANTS to pay more taxes so let’s find a way of doing without FIRST. So… if not the cuts and changes proposed by the legislature of Wisconsin, what is proposed in opposition?

  2. Let me add something else to my perspective if I may.

    My life has been rough the past two years because of the sacrifices I’ve had to make so that my company can stay afloat and I can still be gainfully employed. But my attitude changes have been more important than that.

    See, the more and more I have to give up, the more and more I’m thankful for what I have. I have an EXCELLENT home, a roof over my head, I’m STILL able to pay my bills and still able to afford, with some scrimping, occasional outings to museums and movies. While I don’t eat like a king and many times the week’s menu at home consists of creative ways to combine the contents of a sparse pantry, I’m well fed and healthily fed. I have a decent health, too. I’m not sickly and neither are my kids. I HAVE a job, unlike 8.5% of people in the state of PA (an number that MAY be higher if you include under employed and people whose benefits have run out) and I HAVE health insurance and I HAVE a bit of money set aside for retirement. These are things that MANY people in our country cannot claim and, compared to the global population, I live like an emperor.

    Yes, I’ve had to give up a lot…but instead of focusing on the things I’m doing without, I’ve chosen to focus on the things I actually have and be grateful and thankful to God in heaven for what he has blessed me with. And they are blessings…I’m not entitled to a single one of the things I have. I’m a sinner, I’m flawed, I make all SORTS of mistakes relationally. I’ve been blessed with SO much that I don’t deserve that I can’t help but be thankful for even the little that I do have.

    This is the attitude I take in these economic times. And it bothers me that when others are asked to give stuff up, especially others that believe in the same gracious, merciful, generous and loving God that I do, instead of expressing thanks at what they do have, they complain about what’s getting taken away. I’m not saying let the government walk all over them and be oppressive, but do we REALLY here in the USA know what governmental or societal oppression REALLY is? We have it so good here that for me to complain just seems ungrateful.

    I watch the events in Wisconsin, in Greece, in France, in Ireland, all these countries that, honestly, have it SOOOOO good and hear the complaints about the little things that are being taken away and then I think about Dilip in Kathmandu at the Sahara Children’s home who has no parents and is relying on charity from us half a world away for a decent eductation. Or Sandeep in India who is thankful simply for the food and shelter he gets from my donations to Compassion international… and I weep at times at how selfish and spoiled we are.

    • Rob, I think you may have missed the point a bit … Corey is not arguing about the cuts. The unions have ceded that to the state. What I head him saying is that he understands that the cuts are not up for discussion, given the economy. The question is why there is a need to emasculate the unions as this bill does. This bill is not the budget bill. This bill is to set up for the budget. The question, to me, is why should state workers (who are largely paid at or below market level already, when adjusted for experience, education, and such) are being told that they will permanently not be allowed to ask for anything over a cost of living increase. They know they aren’t getting one this year, but why does Wisconsin need a law that precludes it for the future? And, while I understand why some would want to opt out of the union dues, shouldn’t they then also be opting out of the collective deal and choosing to bargain for their own deal as best they can? If you want the good money and benefits that the union negotiates, shouldn’t you contribute, rather than getting something for nothing?

      Again, it isn’t the money, or lack thereof, in this years budget that has brought Corey, and so many others, out to the protests. It is the attack at their ability to have a union, and to ask for what they feel is fair once the economy does rebound, assuming it does. This seems like a panicked, reactionary, response to a current problem. We don’t know that the economy will stay in the tank any more than Corey knows it will rebound. Given that, why must those in power punish their political opponents in this way?

      • As far as I can tell, I don’t see or hear anything in the bill that prevents unionization. Unions are not being banned. Collective bargaining is being limited, no doubts there, but again, the limitation is, as you said, planning for the budget. To be able to put caps on increases will help put some better controls so that it is easier to plan a budget. If there are no such caps, how can the budget plan for the future? It’s a nice to have thing, the ability to get raises greater than a COLA, but in the light of a problematic economy and a need to plan for the future, is it really that much of a must have?

        As for the other unionization complaints, rather than “once union always union”, what’s wrong with a rule for the employees of a company to be allowed to change their mind? That’s one of the factors in this bill, to allow the employees to vote regularly if they still want to have a union in their place of employment.

        Additionally, if you aren’t part of a union, currently you still have to pay the dues. Why pay the dues if you’re not union? That actually seems to make common sense to allow non-union employees the option not to pay union dues.

        Yes, union influence is being reduced, but I think the current situation shows all to clearly the political power the unions hold, political power that others complain that large corporations hold. If it’s bad for large corporations to have that much power, why is it good for unions to hold that power? How about we limit both and prevent unions from acting like PAC’s as well as prevent corporations from feeding into the lobbying frenzy?

        I’m not 100% anti-union. I hope I’m clear on that. Unions serve a purpose and a good purpose at that. But when the unions become instruments of political power to the detriment of others in society, then I think they’ve overstepped their bounds. When they make demands that are, instead of seeking equal compensation and practice of others in their employment, demanding more than the rest of the public, they become no longer an advocate for oppressed workers but an organization that serves the greed and envy rampant already in society. Unions stand for the workers, prevent employers from taking advantage of workers, and provide a voice to the employers from the employees when there are grievances. This is GOOD stuff to have and there are times when I wish that there were such a thing for me. 🙂 But what seems to be happening more often than not is instead of advocating as described, constantly seeking more and more without a sign of end.

        Now, please, understand, this is NOT disparaging of the workers IN the unions, but the union organizations themselves which are not always representing their constituents faithfully. Perhaps we need something like the collective bargaining limitations, not to punish union workers, but to regulate the union administrations to curb their own excesses.

      • I see some of your points. (You must have typed this while I was typing my latest response!)

        I’m all for limiting both, but this isn’t doing that, it is limiting one, but not the other. That is what Corey and Julia find so troubling. I agree with them. Big business (and others with deep pockets) should not have undue influence, which they do now. Too often, it seems like Dems in power try to limit big business influence, while Reps in power try to limit union and labor influence. This seems to be the latter, while we need both. That is troubling to me, even if I agree that unions need less influence. I don’t like undue influence from those who would Biblically be the “masters” while those who are the “servants” (or slaves) have much less. Cutting out the weaker at the expense of the stronger is troublesome to the Christ-follower in me, even if the unified union voice may sometimes (often?) not represent a portion of its members.

        Thanks for you (always) thoughtful replies.

  3. I think that what Corey has to say and your comments are right-on. I also think that this is part of an even larger problem. If you look at the growing disparity between the middle class and the wealthy in this country, if you look at …the recent Supreme Court’s misguided decision to grant corporations 1st Amendment rights, if you look a the fact that a big part of why we are in a recession lies at the feet of corporate America, especially in the finance sector but it is the average American’s taxes that will have to pay for the mess…I think we are in the midst of a full-out assault on the middle class. I AM a union member and proud of it. The history of unions in this country is not without problems, but I would argue that they have largely been part of what helped create a solid middle class. I am not anti-business: businesses, no matter what the size, are the engines of the economy. But in trying to bust the unions in Wisconsin, the corporate leaders behind this are trying to further stack the deck in their favor. Continued tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations paid for on the backs of a stressed and shrinking middle class. As you so rightly said, there needs to be a balance. Right now things are dangerously out of balance. And you know that if the governor in WI succeeds in passing this bill, the governors of NJ and PA and states all across the country are going to jump on the bandwagon. I think another thing behind this is that some governors are trying to make big names for themselves and position themselves as potential presidential candidates in the next election cycle. They want to develop name recognition across the nation with the maximum “conservative street cred” possible as a union-busting, pro-corporation, budget-slashing, shrink-the-government reputation and LOTS of corporate cash flowing into their campaign war chests. The whole thing makes me sick. Also, media outlets in this country are being bought up and concentrated in the hands of just a few corporations. I think this is DANGEROUS! I hope and pray that the current House endeavor to end funding to public television and public radio does NOT succeed.
    Robert- I hear what you are saying. Business owners and private sector workers have been going through the wringer. I am not saying public employees should be insulated from what others have to face. But I do think that this is a largely manufactured situation in WI. I have not heard any public employee reject the idea of financial concessions- there is no need to go after collective bargaining. Also, I would echo the original post in noting that if this was truly about a financial crisis, the large public unions that donated money to the governor’s campaign would NOT have been exempted.
    Finally, to all three gentlemen: I am so impressed by the way in which each of you state your position clearly and strongly but in a way that is respectful and promotes real conversation about ideas and policy. How sad that this kind of discussion seldom happens in the government and “the public square.”

  4. Reference this article. There are two points from this article that bring out a couple of different facts.

    http://www.thenorthwestern.com/article/20110214/OSH0101/110214045/Exemptions-police-fire-fighters-Walker-budget-bill-sparks-questions-political-payback

    First, while the collective bargaining changes and other changes seem to exempt those unions that helped Walker in his campaign, of interesting note is that two of the biggest unions for firefighters and police officers actually backed Walker’s opponent. So the political gamesmanship accusation falls a little flat there.

    Secondly, note that the exemption of those unions is not something created or started by Walker but in fact have been on the books in Wisconsin for a while. This is something that has always been the case in Wisconsin so is nothing new in this debate.

    Again, I ask the question, a question that no one seems to be able to answer, if you don’t want the things cut that are being proposed, then what would you propose instead? In truth, there’s only so much that can be cut from programs like defense, Medicare, and social security before things get oppressive, so “nice to have” programs like NPR and PBS may face the cut… but if not them, then which ones?

    As for taxing the rich to force them to pay their share… I wish I could find the quote, but someone brought up in an interesting conversation that no amount of legislation is going to correct bad behavior. If someone is truly bent on doing bad things, they’ll find a way around it. The solution is not to layer more and more laws on, to wage class warfare of poor vs rich or middle class vs poor or middle class vs rich, instead all need to come to the table and give. Instead of demanding what others can give, perhaps we should look at ourselves?

    There is only so much that taxes can be increased before we start driving businesses out of the US. As much as we would like to think that it can be prevented, one thing that the rich can do that we can’t is pick up and leave…in fact, that has already happened in states like California. And in Maryland, with the millionaire tax they tried, the millionaires left leaving a bigger deficit than when they started. Raising taxes can only go so far… cuts need to happen. Those of us who can afford to take some cuts, as uncomfortable as they may be, will have to endure and be content for a time. This is what works for families and individuals when their personal budgets get hit (as evidenced by my testimony above)…it will work for governments as well.

    In any case, vilifying either side is not going to help, in fact it’s going to continue to divide the country. Instead of complaining and demanding to maintain what we have that makes us comfortable, we should practice a discipline of gratitude and contentedness… Wish it could be otherwise, but unfortunately such is the case.

    • Rob, the reason that I have not proposed additional places to cut things (other than politicians leading by example) is that no one I have read is really arguing against these particular cuts being a part of the picture. If I were, I would agree that I need to propose an alternative. I just don’t see what the attack on the unions (supporters of Walker or not) has to do with the budget. That is where I have a disconnect, and nothing you’ve offered seems to address why the unions themselves are under attack in the parts not referring to current financial aspects. You still haven’t suggested why the union should have to certify itself by vote every year. How does that change help the budget? Why can’t they ever ask for something more than cost of living? Why should those who take advantage of the benefits of membership not have to pay for membership? I don’t understand these parts of the bill. I understand the cuts to benefits and pay. (Though, as Coery notes those already come out of the same pot, so this could be pointless from a budget standpoint anyway.)

      I do appreciate your feedback, Rob, but also remind you that Corey, and many like him on both sides, do not follow Christ. They do not have any inclination for the kinds of self-sacrifice that you rightly call for from you and I as followers of our sacrificial Lord. While I would like to believe that Gov. Walker has entirely pure motives for the best interest of his state and its residents, I don’t know him and cannot be sure of his motivations. I know Corey, and I know that he is aware of his self-interest, but has come to terms with the cuts that he cannot fight (and I’m not sure he would even if he could). He just can’t come to terms with what seems so unrelated to the budget discussion. Without reference to Scriptural mandates, I can’t find an answer for him either that doesn’t depend on my political world-view.

      I’m like you, Rob. I tend to favor small government, low taxes, and think we could all use reminders to be content and appreciate what we have. Corey has expressed his appreciation for what he gets to do for a living, and that he does have it pretty good, compared to so many others. The point here though is not strictly about politics, though, to me. It is about what is right for us to expect from the government in this fallen world. This legislation seems like it is more big government than small government! It is the government stepping in and creating legislation where I don’t see the justification. I see why the government wants to curb the ability of its workers to negotiate. Imagine if your boss told you that it was illegal to ask for a raise, and they can send you to jail if you do. What recourse would you have? That’s what is happening here! By making it illegal they are doing more than say no, they are making it criminal to ask. I just don’t see how this fits with a reasonable political agenda.

      • Why recertification helps the budget: if a place of business decides to no longer be union by referendum vote, then that place of business is no longer held by the union contracts and can renegotiate terms with the employees without the burdens of the contracts created by the collective bargaining process. With laws already in place to protect civil employees, those same employees can enter good faith negotiations with their employers.

        As for not allowed more than COLA: Unions claim to want to make sure their workers get treated fairly and that they get the same shake as others. If others are limited to COLA due to economic factors, why not unions? That sounds rather harsh, I know, but it’s hard to state otherwise. Another side of it is to actually put a cap to make future planning easier. For my company, our raises are based upon COLA. If we get a “satisfactory” rating on our annual appraisales, we get a COLA… if we get less than that, we get a pro-rated percentage less than COLA. If we get more than that, we get a pro-rated percentage more than COLA. But there is a cap…the scale we use has an upper limit. So, let’s say COLA is 4.5%. The maximum raise I can get is then 9%, double the COLA… but I’d have to be TOTALLY awesome at my job to get that. But still, my company knows that there is an upper limit every year on raises for employees so they can plan for the future. If there is no upper limit, how can they possibly plan for payroll increases?

        As for cuts to benefits and pay: Again, I point out the disparity between public sector union employees and those that are not. They are already, even with “taking from the same pot” more in salary than non-unionized workers in the private sector. Add in the benefits and they are making more. If unions are as altruistic as they claim, would there be that much difference between union and non-union?

        As for the criminality of asking for more than a COLA: I don’t hear that. I hear it as a cap, as a “sorry, in the collective bargaining, there’s an upper limit”. It’s not going to arrest or fine anyone for asking for more, it’s simply going to be a regulation “Sorry, we can’t go that high”. At least, that’s what I’m reading… I could be wrong. In any case, that reads more as sensationalism than actual fact and I tend to treat those kinds of analysis with a bit of skepticism…

        I agree though with you that arguing biblical and faith-based values in a world that is clearly not coming from the same perspective is something that just does not work. Hence why I try to look at things from a common sense economic factor as well as using the same values of “fairness” that others use in these discussions. Fairness, unfortunately, seems to be brought out as an argument only when that someone feels the pinch, but there does not seem to be much empathy towards the fairness that is denied to others at the same time.

        I don’t think, though, that we who DO have the Biblical and faith-based perspective should really be taking political sides. More and more, I’ve become convinced that the proper place of the church’s voice in the world is not in the political arena, but in the arena of the relationships in the world around the politics. We redeem those, these arguments about unions and such become trivial.

  5. Robert,

    You talk about how we must all give concessions. I agree. The fact is, unions have been giving concessions for years. Nurses work forced overtime. State workers have agreed to furlough days, which are a real cut in pay.

    I will confess that I’ve been a pretty vocal critic of unions, including – actually especially – the teachers union at the national level. But, as Sam said, “I do object to some of the things I’ve seen some unions argue for, but that hardly seems justification for throwing out the whole system.”

    And then there’s the really big point that we agreed to ALL of the financial concessions the governor asked for. We agreed to more concessions. And it’s still not enough.

    But when you say it’s a given that we can’t raise taxes, you are ignoring an important and histroically successful way of balancing the budget. It works, it’s fair,because it spreads the burden, and raising taxes on businesses has not driven them out of the state as Republicans have assured us it would. Taxes are not evil. They are necessary.

    • Thank you for your reply, Corey. Let me see if I can address some of these things.

      First of all, you are probably in a better position to comment on what concessions the unions have been giving over the years. Not being in union or in such an industry, I can’t comment on that. However, there are budgetary problems in Wisconsin as in many states that point to a continued increase in spending that is out-pacing the revenues being generated by taxes. As more and more people retire, pensions have to pay out more money than they take in. This is what killed California and is killing many other states in that there are unfunded liabilities in the pension plans and there needs to be some way to rein that in. It’s a simple fact of mathematics that there are more people drawing out of retirement plans (the Baby Boomers are starting to retire) and fewer people paying in (the “Buster” generation). That creates a deficit that will just continue to grow because those boomers are living longer than the previous generation and so are drawing pensions longer than before. It’s an unsustainable pattern that needs to be curbed in some way. It’s REALLY going to hurt, not saying that it won’t. But this is part of the problem with the demographics in the US of retirees starting to draw, population size, and average lifespan. The way things have gone, theres just no way pensions and such can continue as they have been.

      Agreed, historically speaking raising taxes has fixed things before. But one of the interesting things about culture and society right now is something called “discontinuous change”. Patterns in culture and society that, in the past, would have made predicting the next step easy are not longer quite so cut and dried. The globalization of the economy, the impact of decisions made in the economies of other nations, and all those factors make the economics of the US and of the individual states no longer closed systems. They are now openly chaotic and dynamic systems, subject to radical shifts from small variable changes.

      So, let’s say we raise some taxes now. That will probably work for the short term, I’ll concede that and I agree that there is a lot to be said about reining in the excesses of the rich. However, considering the pension problem described above, the uncertainty of energy costs with the unrest in the middle east, a continuing sluggish economy characterized by high unemployment and still falling home prices, there will more likely than not continue to be tight problems with budgets and continuing increasing expenses on the state budget. As those expenses go up, there’s only so high that the tax rates can go before they become oppressive and start having a detrimental effect on the people that are employed by the rich and that consume with the rich produce. Perhaps raising taxes will help short term, but it’s not a long term solution.

      Now, maybe the economy will turn around quickly and suddenly we’ll see the budgets have a dramatic turn around. That would be great. But realistically speaking, I don’t see that happening any time soon and, if we continue spending in a deficit now and continue to avoid making some radical changes in the way that our states handle finances, then we’ll just be digging a bigger hole so that, when the economy DOES turn around, we won’t be able to tell because we’ll have a lot of back-filling to do to fill in the hole.

      I agree, really, that ultimately the solution will be a combination of tax reform (closing loopholes, eliminating some exemptions, etc) and spending reform (reducing programs such as pensions and health care, cutting back public services, re-negotiating state benefit programs, etc). Consider, though, that before Walker, there were several years of Democrats in power in Wisconsin and those policies did not correct the state’s situation. If the tax increases and such did not fix it, perhaps it’s time now to change philosophies for a while and try something else.

      I really don’t see this legislation as throwing out the whole system. Again, I think that’s a rather sensationalist claim and plays on the emotions rather than the reason. Yes, it’s changing the system and revamping a number of things that have “always been”, but sometimes change requires those kinds of things in order to back track a bit and start down a new path. The system is not working well right now. If the system is not working well, do we just maintain the continuation of the system, or do we open it up, change a few filters, re-grind down some valves, etc, so it runs better? That’s kinda what I see happening.

      Anywho, thanks for listening to my rambling, Corey. I’m praying that things will work out quickly out there so that life can get back to some semblance of normal.

      God bless!

  6. […] questions, Reading, Scripture, Teaching, tragedy As a follow up to yesterday’s guest blog post (Thanks again, Corey!) I thought I’d share the conclusion of this interesting fact check from […]

  7. […] these past week or so have involved increasing our departmental presence on Facebook. We now have a Facebook group for current students and alums and a Facebook page for anyone interested in “liking” […]

  8. […] as the debates and protests were raging hot in Wisconsin. (For a teacher’s perspective, see the guest post on this blog from a friend of mine in […]

  9. […] to the recall elections in Wisconsin. (For the motivation for these recall elections, you can see this post from a guest blogger and this post on the accusations aimed at the governors campaign, and the […]

  10. […] post on the state of mathematics education, I was pointed to this response by Al Cuoco (HT: former guest blogger Corey Andreasen). Here is the introduction: A recent editorial in the New York […]

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