For 27 years between 1972 and 2000 my full-time job was to advise and represent public school teachers in matters relating to collective bargaining and grievance processing ending in arbitration. My work was completely in the public sector.
You learn a great deal in 27 years.
For instance, I pay very little attention to how the media or the folks at the microphones or in front of the cameras define the “issues” at Madison, Wisconsin. I know from very long experience that while one or more interpretation might be right; they might as easily be wrong; they might be truthful; they might be intending to mislead. At the micro level there are, in fact, multiple definitions of “issues” particularly in very large conflicts like the one taking place in Wisconsin, with lawmakers in other states waiting in the wings to see what ultimately happens there.
If one can get past their particular bias, and look behind the curtain, there are things which can be very clearly seen.
What Wisconsin means, in my opinion, is very, very simple, and should be very, very troubling to the vast majority of Americans, including those who self-describe themselves as “Tea Party” fanciers.
What Wisconsin is about is the destruction of the Middle Classes ability to represent its own interests, and not only government workers rights. Wisconsin is the ultimate power-play of certain extremely wealthy and powerful business interests to drive the final nail in the coffin of collective bargaining for workers, using the wild horses of supposedly populist rage and resentment (“If I can’t have it, neither can you”; “I hate unions”* (or “government”)….) to provide the negative energy to actually pull off the coup d’etat. The Koch Brothers (big oil) and the United States Chamber of Commerce loom largest among many of these wealthy constituencies out to take control. These ties are very easy to find if one has any interest in looking (these wealthy folks know that most aren’t interested.)
What Wisconsin is not about is recovery from out of control government spending. Government is, in fact, very efficient, even cheap, if looked at over all. At the same time, Government “waste and corruption”, in fact, is very, very good for business. Government money is low-hanging fruit: witness the rampant AMERICAN corruption during the Iraq War (Halliburton, et al); excess or phantom billings for Medicare, etc. Business getting more tax relief as the Wisconsin Governor rammed through for business in his first days in office in 2011, and you have another indirect Government benefit to big business, paid for by unaware taxpayers.
The Middle Class will rue the day if this cabal, and their representative Scott Walker and a temporary majority in the Wisconsin state legislature carry the day.
So will Scott Walker and his backers and financial supporters.
Wisconsin represents the death struggle of the American dream.
How do I define “the Middle Class”?
The Middle Class is the people who, primarily in the last half of the 20th century, worked for a living, bought the new refrigerators, sent kids to college, made the difference in so many ways.
There are endless definitions of “Middle Class”. The Middle Class is huge. Usually the top 2-3% of Americans are considered “wealthy”; with a pretty common floor for “wealthy” being an annual income of $250,000 a year. This leaves 97-98% of Americans as “Poor” and “Middle Class”, and by far the greatest number of these are “Middle Class”.
The average teacher in Wisconsin makes roughly $50,000 a year, with a starting salary of about $25-$30,000. This is the compensation for approximately 180 work days, the typical work year for a public school teacher. Unlike many seasonal occupations, there is no “unemployment insurance” for the summer layoff from teaching. “Summer pay” is simply earnings deferred to summer. I don’t know the specifics about the rest of the average teacher compensation package in Wisconsin – non-teacher contributions to things like health insurance premiums, teacher retirement and the like. A very liberal rule of thumb addition would add perhaps 25% to that $50,000 average, making a truer average a bit over $60,000 a year….
School administrators make a bit more than teachers; other school workers like bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, cooks, aids, etc., make less. The average school employee wage is considerably less than the average teacher salary.
I don’t know about you, but I worked hard for a living over a long career and I never got close to a six figure income ($100,000), much less $250,000 a year. I had a lot of college education, and I think I was respected in my trade.
I’m retired now, with a private pension, social security and not as much savings as I think I need. Ditto for my wife.
Personally, I’ll do whatever I can to prevent Wisconsin from becoming what I truly believe represents the coming American tragedy: the destruction of the Middle Class for the craven ambitions of the super-wealthy in this society.
* UPDATE: Friend Jeff, an international businessman and son of a small town bakery owner, provided an interesting discussion of the word “union”:
From the American Heritage dictionary:
1. The act of uniting or the state of being united.
2. A combination so formed, especially an alliance or confederation of people, parties, or political entities for mutual interest or benefit.
# Agreement or harmony resulting from the uniting of individuals; concord.
“labor union” is the 6th definition given.
The Republican party: a union
The Tea Party: a union
The Burnsville Soccer Club: a union
A neighborhood association: a union
Why is it that in Egypt and parts of the middle east people are demonstrating and in some cases losing their lives , for certain rights which includes the right to form “unions”
But in the USA some political interests are interested in destroying the right of people to form unions?