WHY GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER IS RIGHT
The Taylor Law in New York bans strikes by public employees. It is a good law. Unlike private sector employees, those in the public sector perform service that is necessary to fulfill a legal obligation (educate students in the public schools; extinguish fires; arrest criminals; collect garbage, or renew drivers’ licenses, etc.). Public employees are, thus, instrumentalities of the state who perform essential state functions mandated by law for the benefit of the public. As such, it is an appropriate condition of their employment that they relinquish the right to strike.
Unlike private sector employees whose wages reflect the value of their services to willing buyers in a free market, public sector employees feed off the taxed wages of those who generate wealth in our society. Consequently, public sector employees have a certain fiduciary duty to taxpayers that is unique. Because the payment of taxes is obligatory, not volitional, public employee service, correspondingly, must be obligatory, not volitional. It is not possible for us to withdraw from the public trough the funds we pay in taxes because we are dissatisfied with the quality of public education, the adequacy of garbage retrieval, or the efficiency of driver’s license renewal. If that were our right, many now paid for public service would be unemployed. Correspondingly, it should not be possible for public employees to shirk their duties because they think the amount of pay and benefits lawmakers provide them is inadequate.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker faces a monumental budget crisis. He has few options short of firing public employees (which would be a good idea) to reduce the state’s $137 million budget deficit. He chose a less draconian solution: to limit collective bargaining rights of state employees; to mandate that state employees contribute 5.8% of their salaries to their pensions; and to impose a 6% to 12% increase in medical insurance premiums. Those measures will help Wisconsin avoid bankruptcy. In response, an army of between 20,000 to 40,000 public employees and supporters have descended on the state Capitol in Madison, angrily demanding that they not lose bargaining rights and not have benefits cut. Some public employees who have joined the protest have relied on false representations that they are ill to get out of work. Some have been joined in that fraud by physicians who have issued phony diagnoses.
There is a response to this problem that nips it in the bud, and I would urge Scott Walker to use it. It is illegal in Wisconsin for a public school teacher to strike. It is also illegal for him or her to commit fraud by falsely representing that he or she is unable to attend school duties due to illness when that is not the case. Enforce the law, Governor Walker.
In 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike, demanding better working conditions and pay. On August 3, 1981, President Ronald Reagan held a press conference. He said of the PATCO strikers: “They are in violation of the law and if they do not report for work within 48 hours they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated.” President Reagan then fired 11,345 PATCO strikers who refused to return to work. He also banned them from public service for life (a ban President Bill Clinton imprudently rescinded in 1993).
Taking a page out of the Gipper’s play book, Governor Walker should order those public employees who occupy the state capitol and who are not presently at their posts to show cause why they ought not be fired. He should then demand that those who claim they are ill report to public hospitals for examination under forms signed by physicians on penalty of perjury. Those who are not sick should then report to work or be fired. I am confident that if Wisconsin public employees had a choice between losing their jobs and losing certain benefits, nearly all would go back to work.
Other Governors are fast coming to the realization that Scott Walker’s approach makes imminent good sense. Ohio Governor John Kasich, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, and Florida Governor Rick Scott have either endorsed legislation to replicate Scott Walker’s plan in their states or are advocating reductions in public employee pay and/or benefits to help reduce ballooning state budget shortfalls. The Pew Center estimated last year that there is a $1 trillion gap between what the states presently owe public employees in salary and benefits and what the states have available to meet those obligations. Unless public employee pensions, health benefits, and retirement pay are curtailed that gap will continue to grow by hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Sooner or later states that do not cut back will become bankrupt.
The 2010 elections swept into office Republican Governors and legislatures across the mid-west, including in the states of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The showdown with public employees is an inevitable one for the realists now in office who refuse to ignore ballooning state debts. The governments of these states are in dire straits financially and cannot hope to overcome debt without cutting back on public employment and reducing the skyrocketing costs of pay and benefits to public employees. The revenues coming into states have fallen dramatically as those in the private sector responsible for paying taxes have experienced income reductions. At the same time, federal mandates on the states have grown and will continue to grow under, among other new federal demands on the states, Obamacare.
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Public employees cannot reasonably expect to receive the same pay and benefits they received in the fat years. They must come to the realization that taxpayers cannot afford to pay their salaries and benefits at current levels. They are public servants, not crowned princes. If they do not like service at a salary the public can afford, they can leave public employment and work for a living subject to the vagaries of the market just like the honest, hard working Americans who pay their salaries not because they want to but because they have to.
© 2011 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved