There seems to be consensus on one point concerning the Wisconsin public-sector union debate. That is that nobody can agree what the major sticking point is. The initial claim was that the union refused to accept concessions requiring the rank and file members to contribute to their own pensions and health care in order to assist the State of Wisconsin balance its budget. They have since agreed to this. Now we are hearing it’s about the right to collectively bargain. First responders would not be affected, however the remainder would only be able to bargain for wages and not benefits. You can read the bill here to see for yourself.
I think there is a bigger issue at play here. One that will have a greater effect on union leadership than the members themselves. That is the opt-out clause. Governor Walker has included the option for people to stop contributing dues to the union, yet remain a member. This explains why the state legislators are going to the mat on this one. This explains why Obama has inserted himself in the center of the debate. As always, follow the money. Union dues are how union leaders get to live their lavish lifestyles filled with perks. Even more importantly, it’s a major source of money used for political campaigns in order to get democrats re-elected.
This is where the Governor has “crossed” the line. Asking for concessions to balance the budget and restricting collective bargaining rights are issues that are damaging to the rank and file. But the sacred cow is the money stream. This affects the elite and they don’t like it at all. Now, of course they don’t sell it this way to the rank and file. They are told that the main issue is the right to collectively bargain for their benefits. This is what will get them riled up the most and get them out in the streets marching and protesting and closing down schools from sick-outs. Allowing the dues opt-out would actually put money in the members pockets, however, at the expense of politicians and union leaders. No way can they promote that as the core issue.
So the talking points will read that it’s an “assault” on families and an attempt to snuff out the voice of the union worker. That message is one that will resonate as the union leaders attempt to take this fight nationwide. Members of any union, public or private, will seize on that as a rallying point. But whatever wages or benefits that members receive through collective bargaining don’t affect union leaders or politicians in the way that reducing dues money does. Not to mention, those who elect the opt-out clause get to remain members of the union and enjoy whatever other benefits remain. Publicly, they must say that is their priority, but is it really? Money talks.