Mmmm, concessions ... on this nearly 80 degree February Oklahoma Saturday, I was thinking a deluxe nachos and a giant strawberry Icee sounded pretty good myself. But first, there is breaking news from Wisconsin:
Top leaders of two of Wisconsin's largest public employee unions announced they are willing to accept the financial concessions called for in [Governor] Walker's plan, but will not accept the loss of collective bargaining rights.
Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, and Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24, said in a conference call with reporters that workers will do their fair share to narrow Wisconsin's budget gap.
Walker's plan calls for nearly all state, local and school employees to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care premiums. That would save $30 million by June 30 and $300 million over the next two years, the governor has said.
The measure also would prohibit most unionized public employees, except local police and fire fighters and the State Patrol, from bargaining on issues besides wages. Wage hikes could be negotiated only if they don't exceed the consumer price index.
"We want to say loud and clear -- it is not about those concessions," Bell said. "For my members, it's about retaining a voice in their professions."
Fantastic! Yes, I'm really happy about this. Governor Walker should accept this offer and declare victory, because that's what this is. In offering these concessions, the teachers unions have just admitted that without a bought-and-paid-for Democrat governor or Democrat-controlled state legislature, their days of writing their own ticket at the state capitol are through.
If you have been paying attention to the coverage of the union protests, then you already know that the teachers unions have offered no public defense of their demands. They can't, because 5% annual compensation increases and free retirement and health insurance benefits are completely unrealistic. The money for these compensation and benefits packages comes from taxes paid by a general public staggering under the burden of a painful and lingering recession.
Instead, they have been personally targeting Governor Walker, comparing him to Hitler and accusing him of "union busting" because of Republican efforts to end collective bargaining for Wisconsin public employees unions in all matters, except wages. If Governor Walker were to accept the concessions on teacher compensation but leave the collective bargaining issue for a future debate, he would puncture the "union busting" claim, which would leave the unions little in the way of ammunition to continue using against the Governor.
It would also set an important precedent for the way that state governments should be doing business - bullying, intimidation, and personal attacks by union leaders will not scare Republican governors or legislatures into accepting gold-plated public sector union contracts.
As far as I can see, this deal would be a strong win for Governor Walker, while allowing the teachers unions to save face and keep their collective bargaining rights, at least for the near future. If those unions get out of hand again, then another bill ending their collective bargaining rights can be re-introduced in the state legislature. That's the kind of responsible check-and-balance system on union power that we have desperately needed in this country for decades.
Now, about those nachos ... Wisconsin cheese, of course.
UPDATE: Governor Walker has said "no" to the concession offer. We'll see how this plays out; obviously there are a lot of inside details here that we do not know, since the over-the-top grandstanding is always what makes the news. My thanks to commenter "rain of lead."
Just to be clear, I believe the governor and the legislature should always be ready to end collective bargaining rights if public employee unions get out of control or order their members to do something (for example, a strike) that would endanger public safety or be counterproductive to the public good. The fact that state employee unions were pretty much guaranteed to have no challenges from Democrats allowed their power to grow unchecked, which is absolutely a bad thing. I just don't believe in playing all your cards at once, which is what the Wisconsin Republicans seem to be doing. Then again, maybe the threat of collective bargaining loss is the only thing keeping the unions at the negotiating table.