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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/15/11

Wisconsin's Union Workers Have Always Paid 100% of the Cost of Their Benefits

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We keep hearing about how Wisconsin's public employees should be paying for a percentage of the "generous" benefits that they "receive" from the State of Wisconsin. After all, private sector employees are paying such a percentage, why should public servants receive such largesse at the expense of taxpayers?

The short answer is, because they already earned them.

The collective bargaining that their unions conducted to settle their contracts with the government of the State of Wisconsin or any of the smaller government units in Wisconsin cover many issues concerning work rules, worker safety, even sometimes policies governing what work can be done by whom and qualifications for positions covered by the contract. The primary issue to be discussed, though, is always compensation.

Worker compensation is the financial reward for work that we call pay or salary or hourly rate that is given the employee in their periodic paycheck, normally less the withholding for taxes due on that amount of earnings. Compensation also covers the benefits received by that employee according to the collective bargaining agreement. These things together are normally called the employee's compensation package. It is what you hear of when Republicans are making outrageous claims of union "pay" because they add the value of the benefits to the salary. They just don't bother to mention that the number carries all those factors, preferring to leave it to the imaginations of their target audience to suppose that the number is for salary only.

Very often during collective bargaining, an employer will make an offer of increases in the benefits part of the compensation package for any of a variety of reasons, but often in lieu of a salary increase. The employer may be able to offer health insurance coverage that represents a high value to the employee, but can be obtained at less expense by the employer due to group size or claim experience or may offer enhanced pension benefits. In that case the employees representatives may happily accept such an offer, as the employees couldn't match the deal individually.

Often, in the case of public service employees, these benefits are an inducement to the employees to continue in public service in spite of the fact that private sector workers with similar educational credentials are earning more than their public service equivalents.

During such negotiations, the agreed upon deal may or may not require an employee contribution to secure the benefit. It depends on what was agreed to and why.

When considered in its true light, it is clear that the employers in these areas are not "giving" the employees anything. Those employees earn it. They earn all of it. And when an employer's cheap executive, say perhaps Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, unilaterally claws back any part of those benefits as a solution to the crisis he so cynically created, that constitutes a breach of contract.  That is unless, of course, he first strips the right to collectively bargain from those workers. Currently, the public employees affected by Walker's actions effectively have no contracts. They have only what the Governor has not yet gotten around to stealing from them, and the courts are not much disposed to enforce those contracts.

All of this is fine with the Koch brothers' tool, though. If those public servants decide that it is no longer worth their while to labor for the State of Wisconsin, they may go and leave fewer workers to be unceremoniously dumped when Walker gets around to the privatization part of his agenda. He would likely even use that as a pretense for the privatization that he already knows he is going to try to impose.

Back to contracts, we are all familiar with them. Those are the quaint devices that ensured that executives of A.I.G. and the Wall Street banks would collect millions of dollars in taxpayer provided, TARP funded bonuses, brooking no interference from the President and the Congress of the United States, because their contracts, to which the United States was not a party, were so shrilly claimed to be inviolable. They were even claimed to be inviolable by many of the same propagandists who hold that a contract with the State of Wisconsin is eminently violable for a bought and paid for corporatist Governor. It is simply more rank hypocrisy from the political right, plying its agenda to destroy the workers and the economy of the United States.

It is incumbent on American workers to silence the lies by radiating truth. When we hear someone reciting the right's talking points we must challenge them with the truth. Perhaps we will find that they possess enough vestigial humanity to be so embarrassed by their thoughtless regurgitation that they slink away in shame. If they do not, then we must shine truth on them like sunshine on Dracula. We must hang their hypocrisy around their neck like the Ancient Mariner's albatross so that even their most easily duped followers can appreciate their aversion to truth.
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I am a lifelong resident of the Chicago suburbs, with a several year hiatus to serve in the Navy when my Vietnam era draft notice turned up. I had been told that guys with last names like mine were among the preferred cannon fodder in the Army, so (more...)
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