I'd like to take the opportunity to distill down some of the issues and questions that many in Wisconsin have about the ongoing union conflict. So without further ado:
1. Do you pay into your retirement plan?
Many of the union members protesting at the Capitol do not, or don't pay very much. Despite the fact that they are supposed to, in many of their contracts, most to all of their contribution is paid for by their employer. The state is asking that they pay 5.8% into their plan, and the state essentially matches it. If you have a 401K, you may have already elected to pay 6% or more of your gross into your plan, with little or no company match.
2. Are your retirement benefits guaranteed?
If you have a 401K, they likely are not as they depend on your investments and the market. For most of those protesting at the Capitol, they are guaranteed because they have a pension plan, a rarity outside of government these days because of their extreme cost.
3. Do you find your health care plan expensive?
Chances are, you do. The reason for this is because the cost of health plans have grown as the ability of medical science to heal you with technology and medicine has grown. Most of those protesting do not find their insurance expensive because they are are paying a very small percentage of the price of their plans. Most employers can only afford to offer insurance by increasing the percentage share with employees or going to lower quality plans, or both. Many of the teachers carrying signs on the square have very nice plans that are even more expensive than they need to be because their union requires that school districts buy the insurance plans from them at a higher than market price.
4. Do you and your coworkers get to regularly negotiate a contract with your employer?
Unless you are union, you do not. Yet the protesters in Madison claim they are being sold into slavery ... by being put into a situation similar to yours.
5. Do you have very strong protections built into the law to protect your job?
You almost certainly do not. Yet the protesters on the square do, and they will not lose them with the budget repair bill. Their civil service protections, those laws that lead people to believe that a government job is a job for life, will still be in place, and a grievance system will also be in place.
6. Has your employer ever had to cut wages/benefits across the board or have layoffs during tough times?
Many of you have. Most of those on the square have not. They have had very small sacrifices to make, such as furloughs, but in exchange for this bill, they will neither have to face a layoff nor face any more furloughs. All for modest increases in retirement and health care that don't even bring them up to what you are likely paying for the same things, in order to make their employer, the State of Wisconsin and/or their local government, solvent.
7. Have you ever been able to take 4 sick days and publicly flaunt yourself for your employers to see without facing immediate termination?
Those on the square have just done it, and they don't feel there are any consequences to their actions because their union will protect them. And they are largely correct, no matter what happens to this bill. Their job security will still be extremely strong.
8. Why are local public employees included in this?
Because local communities receive shared revenue from the state. The state will almost certainly have to reduce the level of revenue that goes back to local communities, and this will give those local communities the same ability to manage their own budget deficits that will arise.
9. Why aren't police and fire included in this?
There are plenty of compelling reasons that they should have been, but it was Governor Walker's opinion that public security not be compromised by a potential law enforcement or fire department sick out like that of the teachers. And contrary to what is being said from some quarters, this is not hand out to Walker supporters. The vast majority of police unions in Wisconsin supported the Democrat, Tom Barrett.
10. Why does this seem rushed through?
In the grand scheme, it isn't. A few years ago, Governor Doyle and the Democrat legislature pushed through a budget repair bill laden with tax increases in 24 hours. It hasn't even been a secret that Scott Walker was going to walk this path. Governor Doyle and the Democrats tried to shove through onerous public contracts during their lame duck status for that very reason. Wisconsin has a deadline for their ability to refinance debt at a cheaper rate which happens to fall at the end of this week. The bill had to happen on an efficient timetable to meet that date and cut off the possibility that layoff would be needed to bridge the budget gap for this year. Unlike the Federal government, the state cannot merely issue debt or print money to paper over gaps. It needs to meet its budget, much like a business or a household.