Sunday, February 20, 2011

Public Workers Are...

...the people in your neighborhood!

I made plans a couple of months ago to come to Madison, Wisconsin for a bar mitzvah, never expecting to be caught up in some amazing, peaceful protests at the Capitol. These photos don't really do the event justice, but it was amazing. There were TONS of teachers there. I don't know if the teachers' union (WEAC) or AFSCME (the main public workers' union in the state) is bigger, but both were well-represented. The night before the bar mitzvah, at the out-of-towners' Shabbat dinner, there were 12 adults. Over half of them were public workers: a city attorney, a reading teacher, a county employee, two state employees, two federal employees. All have advanced degrees.

It made me wonder: do you know who the public workers in your neighborhood are?

It's not about the money. The Wisconsin bill is an anti-union bill that would strip workers of collective bargaining rights, and he tried to push this through in less than a week--I guess he thought, "Why use democratic process if you don't have to?" The great irony to me is that speakers were holding up Michigan's Republican governor as a model of a governor who wasn't taking on the unions.Yet what does Gov. Snyder's budget proposal actually mean? Nothing good for public workers, civil servants, that's for sure.

This is a view of the Firefighters for Labor marching through the inside of the Capitol. It's significant because Gov. Walker proposed to exempt firefighters and police officers from the collective bargaining provisions of the law. Apparently, WEAC opposed Scott Walker in the election. The police and firefighters unions didn't. But the police and firefighters are supportive of the activists at the Capitol--and the activists were very appreciative of their presence. (You can't hear the cheering in the photo.)  Right now there's only ONE Republican Senator in the Wisconsin Senate who is willing to say, out loud, that he believes in collective bargaining. Do they know who their public workers are?

My friend said to me, "My kids' schools have been closed for three days. But the kids have been down at the Capitol and it's been a great civics lesson."

Which brings us back to Michigan.
Mark Maynard has a lovely post on the impact of Rick Snyder's budget on Ypsilanti and cities like it.

Here's what Glen S. has to say in that post:
Rick Snyder really IS a political genius, I suddenly realized yesterday.

Unlike Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker — who has ignited a national firestorm over his strident and quite overt efforts to bust unions, slash pensions and other benefits, and generally dismantle what’s left of any opportunity for Wisconsin’s public sector workers to enjoy a modest, middle-class lifestyle — Snyder has a smarter, but much more insidious plan.
By dramatically slashing revenue-sharing, per-pupil student aid, and other forms of basic support for Michigan’s struggling cities, school districts, etc., to such a degree that unprecedented restructuring clearly will be necessary, Snyder is, in effect, “outsourcing” the dirty work of breaking unions, reneging on promised pension benefits, etc., to locally-elected city councils, school boards, county commissions, etc.
This way, over the next two years — while hundreds of individual Michigan cities, townships, counties and school districts are all busy fighting their own individual battles with their own individual workers and unions — Snyder will appear to be keeping his hands clean from all of the local budget “unpleasantness,” — while he continues to promote himself as as a genial, and business-minded “one tough nerd,” whose only agenda is promoting “shared sacrifice.”
The Object Lesson for me is that the real enemy of the public worker is not any particular governor. The real enemy is Apathy. How many public, unionized workers, voted for anti-union candidates? How many failed to vote? How many workers--private or public--don't realize that their weekends off, their 40-hour workweek, their environmental safeguards--are due to unions?

This is the civics lesson that we need.


  1. Just started reading your blog and am really enjoying it. Thanks for the accurate and astute writing!

  2. This battle is going to determine whether our country returns to social democracy, or whether we will accelerate­ our slide towards being a tin-pot authoritar­ian crony economy.

  3. Nice blog, I didn't know you were blogging. The number of people and energy continued to be huge at the capitol today, monday. Not sure what tomorrow will bring when the teachers and students go back to school.

  4. Thanks for the on-the-ground report, Ruth. What frightens me is that people like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have totally misread the meaning of the November 2010 elections - perhaps on purpose.

    Is Rick Snyder doing the same thing here? In a way, as you point out. To a lot of people, it boils down to this: government is bad, unions are bad, and if you put the two together you get a pit of darkness. The effort to re-label public schools as "government schools" was one of the more obvious attempts to bolster this viewpoint.

    Some of this is partisan politics (teachers' unions are generally reliable supporters of Democratic candidates), but most of it is a real struggle over core values. The progressive side needs to do a better job of getting out there and reminding voters why we the people joined together to create our public schools.

  5. The unions are what made me middle class. I was always paid fairly and had a voice if I thought I was treated unfairly. Watch Governor Snyder's moves. There appears to be financial support and incentives for business (job creation) and lack of support for the public sector worker (a financial burden on you the taxpayer). This is all about divide and conquer. A leader with real guts would say, "Okay Michigan, we're all paying more taxes until we get out of this hole."

    I need to say that I'm a retired teacher. I took the retirement incentive this past year when I didn't really want to retire. Now the budget proposal would tax my pension. A rather obvious bait and switch and that is just plain petty. But what gets me is that, while teachers aren't paid all that well, they do have good benefits and a pension. In comparison to most states, Michigan has very good teacher pay. We should be promoting that fact not reducing incentive to go into the profession. There is no reason that Michigan should not be recruiting the best teachers that are out there instead of trying to weaken education. We need some leaders with vision. Too much group mentality both with the Repubs and the Dems.