In the name of balancing his state’s budget, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has taken a strong stand against union bargaining privileges, braving weeks of protest and relying on the Republican majority in the state legislature to eventually override the 14 Democratic state senators who retreated to Illinois to dodge a vote on his budget-repair bill.
In a new video by Reason.tv, Heritage labor analyst James Sherk said the protests in Wisconsin — strictly speaking — have never been about Walker’s bill.
“The real purpose of the protests in Wisconsin is not to try to win there,” Sherk explains in the video. “They know they’re not going to win there. The purpose is to discourage other governors from going down that same path and from taking those same steps.”
So, from that perspective, have the protests succeeded?
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) is about to sign a bill that closely resembles Walker’s. Kasich’s bill, which aims to address Ohio’s looming $8 billion budget deficit, would prevent state employees from collectively negotiating health and pension benefits. Sherk said governors in traditionally liberal states like California, New York and Illinois will also likely cut government compensation at some point down the road — simply because the budget situations in those states will demand it.
Of course, as the Reason.tv team points out, two other GOP governors facing major budget crises — New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Michigan’s Rick Snyder — have said they don’t think it’s necessary to restrict collective bargaining to achieve greater austerity. And some states with budget shortfalls don’t even have the option to restrict union negotiating power: In Texas, North Carolina and Louisiana, public employees already lack collective bargaining ability.
Still, for those governors who do have the option, union restrictions make sense. As Sherk puts it, “Collective bargaining is basically a legal monopoly.” Union leaders’ negotiating prowess partly explains why public-sector workers earn more in total compensation than their private-sector counterparts.
In a state like Wisconsin, which faces a projected deficit of $3.6 billion, the government simply can’t afford to negotiate any longer. There’s no money left.
“They have to make cuts and where would you rather cut?” Sherk said. “If you’ve got people who are getting way above market wages, well, that’s a much more natural place to start making the cuts than with other groups that are far more sympathetic.”