Last night, the Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate made a stunning and bold move that is sure to draw criticism and concern from all quarters. They acted on a bill that would strip most public employees unions of the power to bargain for anything other than salary. While this may seem like an extreme measure, I think it would be interactive to understand how our state got to this point.
FULL DISCLOSURE TIME: I am a public employee. This bill affects me. Everything I say here is not what is reported to me, or things that I have heard, they are things that I have seen and experienced.
The benefits that we receive as public employees are very generous. We receive a pension at the end of our service which is based on our earnings in our last three years of service. Many teachers, in the final few years of service, take on extra classes and summer school in order to boost their salaries for those years in order to raise the amount they will receive during retirement. I pay nothing for my pension.
Our health insurance is top notch. I have access to doctors and specialists whenever I need them. Pre-existing conditions are covered and there is little that is not covered. And, to add insult to injury, we have a choice. Our district, because of our contract, provides us with TWO health plans to choose from. Both are great plans, they are often referred to as "Cadillac health plans" and if you are using the car analogy, that is not too far off. Actually it would be more like a high-end Camry and a low-end Lexus. They are the same basic car, just with different special features.
We pay nothing for either of these at the moment. For the first time, our new contract requires us to pay a small (very small, 1% of our salary) amount towards our health insurance. This amounts to (for me) about $30 every two weeks. This payment starts in August 2011, and I for one believe that it is Long overdue.
We have protections that make it difficult to terminate a teacher who may be incompetent or incapable of continuing teaching. Imagine a teacher who has a stroke which affects their cognitive abilities. As long as they can make a case that their diminished cognitive functions do not affect their teaching duties, they cannot be involuntarily dismissed. The entire process for dismissing a teacher takes longer than the district is willing to spend time on.
Now here is the really bad part. Most school districts in the state use an insurance company called WEA Trust. WEA Trust is an insurance and financial services company that is owned by WEAC, the state teacher's union. The health insurance rates at the union-owned insurance company are between ten and fifteen percent higher than the private insurance company used by my district.
The public employee unions support Democratic Party candidates almost exclusively with the union dues collected from it's members. Besides requiring larger contributions for pensions and healthcare, it makes union membership optional, and for those who wish to remain members of the union, the state and local government units are no longer allowed to automatically deduct union dues from paychecks, but rather the employee must make a choice of will to write a check to the union for their dues.
So, what, in the final analysis, is the impact of this law? It severs the incestuous link between public employees' unions and the Democratic Party in Wisconsin. It makes the Democratic Party compete on a level playing field with the Republican Party by having to get their money based on a person making a choice to support them, either directly or through the unions. In short, it advances democracy, not destroy it.
It also makes people choose which side of the fence they are on. It makes mushy Republicans either put up or shut up. After this vote, we will know who is truly a conservative, and who is a RINO. I think that this is equally important as the rest.
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