Wisconsin Everywhere: Race to the Bottom or Raise the Floor?

by on February 27, 2012 · 8 comments

in California, Economy, Labor, Under the Perfect Sun

In last week’s column, I noted that Arizona lawmakers, with help from a right-wing think tank, were pushing union busting legislation more severe than Wisconsin’s. Not surprisingly, as John Nichols reported in The Nation, Arizona Republicans got a little pep talk from Governor Scott Walker himself:

Two days after Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected Governor John Kasich’s anti-labor agenda by a sixty-one to thirty-nine margin in a statewide referendum, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker jetted to Arizona to launch the next front in the national campaign to attack union rights. After meeting  with former Vice President Dan Quayle, Walker was whisked over to the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, where he briefed a thousand Arizona conservatives on how they could attack “the big-government union bosses.”

“We need to make big, fundamental, permanent structural changes. It’s why we did what we did in Wisconsin,” declared Walker, who at the annual dinner of the right-wing Goldwater Institute said that compromising with unions was “bogus.” Comparing governors who have been attacking the collective-bargaining rights of public employees with the founders of the American experiment—“just like that group that gathered in Philadelphia”—

Walker told his listeners: “We need to have leaders not just in Wisconsin but here in Arizona…” If anyone missed the point, Walker said:

“Tonight, you might say I’m preaching to the choir with a bunch of fellow conservatives.… I  preach to the choir because I want the choir to sing. So tonight I’m asking you to sing. Tell the message in Arizona and all across America that we can do things better” . . .

[U]rged on by Walker, Arizona Republicans are . . . racing to implement a militant anti-labor agenda modeled on legislation enacted last year in Wisconsin—and promoted by national groups such as the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC’s model legislation [which] provides conservative legislators in the states with preapproved bills and resolutions for attacks on collection bargaining in particular and organized labor in general.

And the group has worked closely with Brewer and many Arizona legislators, including recently ousted Arizona Senate President Russell Pierce. Indeed, Brewer began outlining the Arizona plan at an ALEC meeting in December, when she declared her intention to “reform the state’s personnel system” in order to make it easier to hire and fire public employees. That inspired speculation about Brewer wanting to be “the Scott Walker of the West.”

Locals might remember that it was San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio who last spring called for making San Diego “the Wisconsin of the West” by waging relentless war on unions and the public sector.

Now that the Arizona right has taken time off from hating on immigrants, banning books, assaulting ethnic studies, and wagging their fingers in the face of President Obama long enough to jump to the front of the line, it begs the question: with so many right wing politicos seeking to claim the Wisconsin mantle perhaps they should start a waiting list at GOP central? (If they can  get their minds off of policing women’s vaginas and excusing domestic violence for a moment).

Fears of wearing out the Wisconsin thing certainly didn’t stop the Republicans in New Hampshire from jumping on the anti-worker bandwagon. There, in the Granite State, the House Labor Committee is taking steps toward putting forward five new anti-labor bills: two “right to work” bills (a lead and a back up bill in case the first fails); a bill to allow employers (rather than employees) to lead decertification drives; a bill that disallows unions from being the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit; a bill that gives the legislature veto power over all municipal contracts; and a bill that puts more health care costs onto workers. Perhaps now New Hampshire can be called the Wisconsin of New England or the Arizona of the East.

The California of California

This just in: somebody in Sacramento had a good idea. Amidst the local, state, and national frenzy to drag public sector workers down off of their gold-plated pedestals by gutting their pensions, a lawmaker actually considered bringing everybody else up instead. As the Sacramento Bee reports:

One day after Republicans sided with Gov. Jerry Brown on public pension reform, Democrats on Thursday said they want millions of Californians to have guaranteed retirement benefits.

Senate Bill 1234, written by Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, would require businesses with five or more employees to enroll them in a new “Personal Pension” defined benefit program or to offer an alternative employer-sponsored plan.

The new system’s investments would be professionally managed by CalPERS or another contracted organization. Employees would contribute about 3 percent of their wages through a payroll deduction, although they could opt out of the plan. Employers could make voluntary contributions into the fund.

The fund would assume much lower investment returns than the 7.75 percent that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System says its investments will generate, de León said. Unlike public pension funds that can pass on their investment shortfalls to taxpayers, private underwriters would assume any losses by the private sector fund.

“It’s a supplement to Social Security. It’s not a panacea,” de León said during a Thursday morning press event with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and other Democratic and labor leaders.

The UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education figures about 62 percent of working Californians – more than 7 million people – have no retirement savings through their employer. If all of them put 3 percent of their wages into a retirement fund, the pot of money would grow to $6.6 billion in the first year, say university researchers.

While hardly revolutionary, it’s good to see that somebody in Sacramento is thinking more about raising people up than dragging them down. Here’s hoping that this kind of practical plan to do something positive about the impending crisis of private sector employees with no retirement savings is just the beginning of a larger discussion about our collective future.

Otherwise, folks like Scott Walker, Jan Brewer, Grover Norquist, Carl DeMaio and all their friends on the libertarian right have a great idea for the 62 percent of working Californians with no retirement savings: die faster poor old losers! Hey, if you don’t have enough money to take care of yourself in your dotage, that’s your problem. Don’t go looking for big government to carry your wrinkled backsides—that might mean the rich and corporations would have to pay more taxes.

Millionaires Tax Leads the Pack

As the battle of the ballot initiatives continues and the polling rolls in, the Millionaires Tax continues to lead in the polls, with the most recent Field Poll showing 63% of Californians favoring the MT versus 58% in favor of the Governor’s and only 45% in favor of Molly Munger’s initiative. With the third option effectively dead in the water, the real question is whether the Governor will have the political wisdom to drop his plan and go with the MT which brings in the most money ($6-9.5 billion), is ongoing (rather than 4 years and out with the Governor’s plan), and most likely to pass with no regressive sales tax to drag it down as the campaign ensues. Interestingly, even the Governor’s own polling showed his measure behind.

That’s five straight polls showing the Millionaires Tax as the initiative with the best chance to pass. It’s time to get pragmatic, Jerry. If we really want ongoing funding for schools and vital public services, you should step aside and let the most progressive measure win the day.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar cahlo February 27, 2012 at 4:23 pm

i’m not a pro-union guy by any means, but they did take care of my dad. i think they’ve outlived their usefulness. private unions are slightly more tolerable to me as long as they are made to compete with non-union companies. but, public unions are completely criminal, as the party that pays the freight, the taxpayer, does not get a say at the negotiating table. it’s the union rep’s and the politicians sitting there, sucking everything out of my pocket w/o ever asking…….then the union gets the politician reelected so that this sham continues on and on……….gov walker is a hero…..

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avatar seth February 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Obviously you only read fox headlines. Teachers do not make 100,000 k. They pay for thier training (4 years of expensive college, thats 4 years without a full income, plus they have to donate one year of free labor aka. student teaching. So they have invested 5 years, 60,000 dollars worth of education job training, and over 100,000 dollars of missed income. All just to make 26,000 a year plus a few benifits that still only total roughy a 36,000 dollar salary. They also have to buy an average of 500 dollars of school supplies, donate time to school activites. Just to have uneducated missfits like yourselves try to drag them down to your level. You should always support your fellow workers. Lets raise eachothers standards of living together not drag us all into the dirt. Oh and all the public unions agreed to all financial cuts just not the ones that dig into thier freedom of speech and assembly. Take a chance Cahlo and open a book discover your own facts and develope orignal factual arguments.

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avatar Nancy February 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Cahlo,
You say “public unions are completely criminal….taxpayer does not get a say at
the negotiating table.” How’s that going to work other than having the politicians
who taxpayers voted for (if they exercised their right to vote, that is) be the ones
who speak for the public. Union reps speak for their workers and negotiate with management. How else could it be?
You need to look back at history to see why unions started in the first place. The
govt. workers have a right to have a say also regarding their working conditions
and benefits just like the non-govt. employees do.
Bet you had a better upbringing cuz your dad was in a union. Do away with unions and you have management doing away with rights and benefits.

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avatar The Gunny February 28, 2012 at 9:28 am

Cahlo, your San Diego Firefighters have been on the giv not the take for some years now. We AGREED to a 6% paycut and reduction in benefits in 2009 and have not demanded anything since. It is laughable at how much people assume what the public sector worker has or doesn’t have after the barrage of horse muffins that Carl DeMaio, Tony Krvaric and TJ Zane throw out.

My question to you is what would you say at the table that would benefit the conversation? Do you have experience in such matters?

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avatar cahlo March 4, 2012 at 7:30 am

it doesn’t take any experience to know that the ‘people’ paying the addl pay/benefits at the table aren’t being represented. i would probably add a few ‘no’s to the discussion…..

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avatar Chris February 28, 2012 at 11:27 am

Public pensions in their current state will bankrupt the state of CA. Simple as that. The solution is not to have the taxpayer fund more into the system. Cahlo hits the nail on the head.

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avatar Nancy March 1, 2012 at 11:48 am

The reason the public pension funds are in trouble is because the state did not
pay the share they were obligated to back in the 80’s on because they relied on the
funds ( 3 state pension funds) INVESTMENT income to do well as they did til the
economic breakdown 2 yrs. ago. See http://calpensions.com/2011/01/10/state-pension-funds-what-went-wrong-2/ to get the facts on that.

San Diego City did the same thing, along with getting the employees to pay into
their system instead of paying into Soc. Sec.

The past usual blame for govt. deficits was placed on paying for public assistance programs which was not true, but now it’s “blame the govt. pension plans” for the fed/state/local govt. financial problems.
The same actually happend with what
we’re hearing about Social Security being in trouble, and it is but due to the federal
govt. using their funds to pay for other govt. programs. If that wasn’t done, the SS trust fund would have enough to pay benefits til 2035. But I digress and hopefully you get the point…..which is that it is not the pension system that is wrong, but what wasn’t put in that should have been. ECONOMICS worked to their advantage until it didn’t.

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