My heart is barely into this, but since the Washington Post didn’t see fit to have anyone respond to the op-ed from Gov. Scott Walker they published today, I guess it falls to me. This is pretty easy, since Walker has been using the same tired talking points since the beginning.

Imagine the outrage if government workers did not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits. Consider the massive protests that would be staged by labor leaders all across the country.

Think I’m talking about Wisconsin? No, I’m talking about the federal government.

Contrary to what the Obama administration would lead you to believe, most employees of the federal government do not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits. That means the budget reform plan we signed into law in Wisconsin on Friday is more generous than what President Obama offers federal employees.

The collective bargaining on wages that Walker allows in his law is no higher than the rate of inflation, and there is no bargaining on benefits. So he cleared a low bar just barely. And then there’s all the things Walker leaves out. Federal employees can bargain on work conditions, overtime, and wrongful termination; Wisconsin employees now cannot. Federal employee unions don’t have to certify every year; Wisconsin employee unions now do. Federal employees have their union dues taken out of their paychecks; Wisconsin employees now do not, and they can opt not to fund the union which now can do practically nothing for them. That’s because Walker’s bill wasn’t about giving state employee unions more leeway than federal employee unions; it was about eliminating them.

Then there’s the connection to private, non-union workers that Walker likes to make:

My brother is a banquet manager and occasional bartender at a hotel. He pays nearly $800 a month for his family’s health insurance and can put away only a little bit toward his 401(k). He would love the plan I’m offering to public employees.

I don’t think anyone believes that the individual health insurance market is a good model for all workers; in fact, we just had a year-long debate over that very issue because it was seen as so broken. Union-busters like Walker always try to pit workers against one another, when the point is not that union employees should be brought down to the level of the dispossessed and voiceless, but that those others should be brought up, in a time of record profits for corporations.

In Wisconsin, we are choosing a different way. The Wisconsin way allows local governments to balance the budget through reasonable benefit contributions. These reasonable contributions will save local governments almost $1.5 billion.

The financial savings in our budget reforms will protect 1,500 jobs this fiscal year and 10,000 jobs over the next two years. The savings come from giving state and local governments the tools to manage benefit costs through collective bargaining reform.

There’s that word “tools” again. Scott Walker is saying here that the budget must be balanced on the backs of workers. He’s cutting corporate taxes at the same time as he delivers these “tools” to municipalities, so they can be the ones to slash worker pay. So the point is to give all the assets of the state over to corporations while making workers who didn’t cause the budget crisis bear the majority of the pain.

Some have questioned the need to reform collective bargaining. After all, they say, the union bosses in Washington said publicly that their workers were ready to pay a little bit more for their benefits. But the truth is that as the national union bosses were saying one thing, their locals were doing something entirely different. Over the past several weeks, local unions across Wisconsin have pursued contracts without new pension or health insurance contributions. Some have even pushed through pay increases.

It’s a lie that local unions haven’t made concessions in these budget negotiations with their localities. And in addition, Scott Walker thinks we have to end collective bargaining, because if we don’t… there will be collective bargaining. The reasoning is entirely circular.

If the Post should deign to allow the other side of the story on this, you will see all of these rebuttals. But if Walker thinks he can just make this a game of he said-she said, he should look to his state. He’s wrong, and he’s losing.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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