The voters weighed in on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s (R) agenda on Tuesday. Government unions organized recall elections against state senators who voted to limit collective bargaining in government contracts. But Wisconsin voters re-elected a majority of the law’s supporters who were on the ballot. The government union agenda is not as popular as many pundits thought.
This should not come as a surprise. Government unions organize against voters and taxpayers. They use collective bargaining to pressure government to serve their purposes, not the common good. Collective bargaining in government often means that taxes pay for government employees to retire while still in their 50s. Government unions also ensure incredible job security for their members.
Government employees naturally enjoy these perks, and their unions fight for them. But they prevent the government from serving the public well. Inflated union benefits mean higher taxes to cover higher costs. Union job security also makes it extremely difficult to fire poor performers. It is virtually impossible to fire an ineffective unionized teacher. But what parent wants union rules to assign a bad teacher to their child?
This conflict with the public interest is why the union movement historically opposed organizing in government. George Meany, the legendary president of the AFL–CIO, famously wrote that “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” Even President Franklin Roosevelt, a champion of private-sector unions, rejected the idea. Not until 1959 did Wisconsin become the first state to permit collective bargaining in government.
The Wisconsin reforms rolling back that law have proven hugely successful. Governor Walker closed a $3 billion budget hole without raising taxes. School districts across the state—which took hundreds of millions in budget cuts—have used the law’s flexibility to reduce costs with few layoffs. The layoffs that are occurring are occurring on the basis of performance, not seniority. Reining in government unions has led to better government.
Governor Walker and the Wisconsin legislature took a courageous stand against a powerful special interest to do what was right for Wisconsin. On Tuesday night, the voters rewarded their courage.