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Sep 5, 201307:16 AMBlaska's Bring It!

with David Blaska

Spare us the sad union songs

(page 1 of 2)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

My fellow gun nuts, flat-earthers, and Walker worshippers were about to begin our alternative singalong in the rotunda of the State Capitol, official permit in hand, when a radio personality and shill for organized labor began shouting. I made a high-pointing gesture, the pre-arranged signal, for the police to haul him away. 

“All he was doing was asking a question,” a liberal apologist argued later. We were there to sing, not hold a press conference. Seventy of us had assembled, permit in hand, to warble patriotic songs like “God Bless America” and our take on the Woody Guthrie standard.

“This land is my land, it is not your land

... This land is private proper-TEE!”

Socialists, we are not. Later, a TV news reporter followed up on the rude radio squawker’s question: “What about your government pension?” 

Pension? Seemed a total non sequitur, until it occurred to me that the sly radio guy was intimating that I should be singing in solidarity with the unionistas in gratitude for my government pension. It’s an article of faith on the left that, without unions, government workers would be more exploited than an Appalachian coal miner. 

Except for a little history. State government established the first public sector pension funds, for Milwaukee’s protective service employees, in 1891, the year the Dalton gang robbed their first train. In 1907, the Wisconsin Legislature authorized local police and fire pension funds outside Milwaukee. Teacher pensions came in 1911. Mandatory pensions for other government workers arrived in 1935. 

All of this was long before government employees were permitted to organize into labor unions. Gov. Gaylord Nelson signed collective bargaining into law for municipal workers and teachers in 1959. State employees climbed on board in 1967. Civil service protections for government employees — hiring through competitive civil service examinations, firing only for cause, and appealing demotions and terminations — were codified in 1905. They remain in effect. 

True, final appeals — post-Act 10 — are up to the governing body: school board, city council, state government. In other words, officials elected by the people themselves. People like the newly elected school board member — no Republican — whom the Madison teachers union president called “Public Enemy Number One.” 

Which raises the fundamental question: Against whom are the government labor unions organizing? Franklin D. Roosevelt answered that question in 1937: against the people themselves. 

“Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. ... The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.” 

Case in point: A local progressive named Jeff Simpson likes to blog that school teachers, presumably including his own wife, “are incredibly underpaid.” Given that he sits on the Monona Grove School Board, I suggested he might be in a position to rectify the injustice. Ask the citizenry to blow the hinges off the state spending caps. Put it to a referendum! So far, no response from Mr. Simpson.

Government can’t give what it doesn’t have. Mark Bugher served Tommy Thompson for 13 years, as secretary of revenue and secretary for administration, where he oversaw negotiations with the state’s 19 (nineteen!) bargaining units. He told me, “I could never figure out the value of state employee unions to the membership because I don’t recall any important concessions that the unions ever won for their members. The wage rates were always the same across the board. Benefits were generous for everyone, but not because of bargaining. ... I remember when state auditors at the Department of Revenue organized. It was puzzling to me why — and what they ever got for organizing other than having to pay dues every year.”


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Comments, page 1 of 2 1 2 Next »
Sep 5, 2013 09:41 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

Sep 5, 2013 05:07 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

What CONTEMPT you have for the hand that feeds you. You got to retire at 55 years old b/c of your union contract AND draw a big fat pension. Now you go around and trash unions and union members who negotiated the lavish pension that you suck down every month.

Tell you what David: I'll take you and your constant anti-union ranting SERIOUSLY when you renounce your FAT union-negotiated pension and go back to work until you turn 65 like you are advocating for the rest of us in Walker's Wisconsin.

Of course you won't do that b/c you are a hypocrite, right David?

Sep 6, 2013 07:45 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

I don't believe that early retirement (age 55 for general employees) was union negotiated. State unions simply inserted most of the existing state employee benefits into their contracts. Yes, the unions got a few "spare change" concessions but union contracts essentially mirrored those employees who were not in a union group. State unions didn't do much to make employment better for most employees, but it did protect the bottom feeders in the state system. If civil service protection wasn't enough for poor performers there was always the union steward's shoulder to cry on and get sympathy. By the way, I believe David probably took a reduced pension by retiring early. The state pension system rewards those who stay longer and penalizes those that escape the sanctuary early. I'd really like to see what the union membership rate is now since dues are not mandatory.

Sep 6, 2013 08:02 am
 Posted by  David Blaska

Memo to "Anonymous at 5:07 pm": I don't mind your vehement disagreement or even the name-calling (par for the course from you folks) but could you, at the least, bestir yourself to actually read that which you are commenting on? The unions did NOT negotiate my pension or anyone's pension. Where did I write that I was a union member? I have NEVER been a member of a labor union. I did NOT retire at age 55 (much later, actually). And since only half my working life was spent in state government employment, I did, indeed take a reduced pension. It's not that fat -- not that I am complaining. State employees -- great people, most of them -- took a hit when forced to resume contributing the employee share. But it's still a great deal -- better than most private sector defined contribution retirement plans and, yes, better than the one I earned at The Capital Times. In both cases, I voluntarily set aside pay for retirement above and beyond that which was matched by the employer -- a practice I recommend for all workers, no matter their benefit plans.

Sep 6, 2013 02:03 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Anony 7:45,
You have it backwards. The unions negotiated, usually the balance between increases going to salaries vs. benefits, and other non-represented state employees were mirrored to that. ALL state employees benefited from the union negotiations (including you, Dave). That's how the state ended up picking up the employee's contribution to healthcare and retirement. It was in lieu of salary increases, and because it ended up saving the state money to get employees into HMOs, at the time, and avoided some taxes. Turns out that bit of history is ignored by the public-employee-bashing GOP and Walker.
(And Dave, how about that Boy Governor caving on his Chief's crooked raise and rescinding the United Sportsmen's graft, all in the same day? A good day for the Wisconsin taxpayer! I guess a Presidentail run sharpens one's sensitivity to scandal and bad press. Pardon my gloating.)

Sep 8, 2013 03:55 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Big Dave - so was Sly hauled away?

Sep 8, 2013 03:58 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Your singing sucked. Off key - mostly flat. No intonation.

Sep 8, 2013 04:00 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

... This land is private proper-TEE!”

Really Dave ??

Sep 8, 2013 04:04 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

50,000 watts of Sly is superior to your high school blog.

Sep 10, 2013 06:53 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

It's funny to read Sly and his fanboys hurling personal insults at you, Dave. This means they have no other means of arguing their point (if they have one). LOL. Keep up the good work.

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About This Blog

Raised on a farm near Sun Prairie, David Blaska is a recovering liberal who spent 18 years in daily newspapers, including 12 at The Capital Times in Madison as a reporter and editor. He served Gov. Tommy Thompson as acting press secretary in 1998 and is a veteran and survivor of 19 years in state government. He served 12 years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. From December 2007 to November 2011 he wrote the consistently popular "Blaska's Blog" for Isthmus online's "The Daily Page" until, he says, the intolerant liberals ran him off. He blogs from Madison.

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