Sunday, March 13, 2011

Public Employees’ Union Concerns: Was there a lost translation in Wisconsin State?

Keywords or Terms: State Budget balancing, Union Bursting; Public Employees Union; Lost translation; Republican Governors; Employees’ Right; Salaries and Benefits

An enormous number of public employees have lost or about to loose their breadwinner to unemployment. As a result, children in the many households of public employees have lost or about to loose their health care insurance. As if that wasn’t bad enough, some American households who depend on public employment and who are facing some Republican Governors’ assault on union protected rights are being told whatever negotiation they once had under the umbrella of a union is no longer relevant; and, these people are wondering what is next.

Wisconsin Governor Walker won the distinction over recent weeks for yanking public employee unions’ rights to negotiation on salary, benefits and more. Many Labor Union experts expect other states with Republican governors to follow suit, with more heads of households in public sector employment loosing their union protect rights and probably employments. Should American household heads with public sector employment be worried about their future, considering that some Republicans Governors are out to undermine public employees’ right to negotiation on salaries, benefits and more; and, should they be concerned about the drive to balance State Budgets on the back of public employees and unions?

Knowing what is in the offing

First, American household heads with public sector jobs must now be worried about their chances of holding on to their jobs, as their union protected rights and privileges are being eroded or are on the way out, at least in the State of Wisconsin. This is a reality that can not be overlooked by many public employees in several states with governors who are bound on balancing their state’s budget on the back of public employees’ salaries, benefits and rights to negotiation. The current dynamics of union bursting demands that public employees in unions, who are heads of households, re-evaluate their family situation, understand the impending or forthcoming changes, attempt to hedge against potential loss of income, visualize the odds of their family loosing out on their health insurance and any other protected rights in the coming year due to the new aggressions from many State Houses, and prepare for the forthcoming onslaught on their standard of living and probably, quality of life.

Under previous circumstances, many heads of household, who serve or work in public sector employment, are able to rest easy with some sense of job protection and security. With the new or probably upcoming changes in many states with budget issues and Republican governors, public employees union bursting, no government employees and public employee union members can be sure of a job or associated benefits that were initially negotiated with union bosses. Does this mean the death of public unions influence as we used to know it? Probably not, but it seems we are getting close with the oncoming onslaughts and decisive changes. With the new dispensation or oncoming aggressive changes that have to come because of the actions from State capitols, some of which are already predicted in about half a dozen states, it is not unlikely that fewer heads of household who are members of public employee unions are going to have a job, despite the fact that they once chose to serve in public employment with its notoriously poor salaries and benefits when compared with what obtains in private sector employment.

What has followed the experience in the Wisconsin State legislature and the Governor’s office in recent weeks, is an evidence that the old status quo maybe on the way out; and, the lesson for other states where the State governor is contemplating balancing their budget on the back of public employee unions, is that the future is going to be challenging, if not rocky. The Republican dominated Wisconsin legislature and governor’s office have been able to pass and sign into law a bill that abridges the rights of public employees union to negotiate and vote on issues that affect their salaries, benefits and welfare. There is a temptation that the new changes will lead to very draconian public policies that may make it difficult for some heads of household to take care of their family or function as contented public employees. For example, no longer will some state employees, especially in states where public employees’ rights to negotiate on salaries and benefits are yanked or abridged, be able to effectively determine their contribution to health insurance premiums and transportation vouchers, or have the opportunity to negotiate within a reasonable margin the ratio of their salaries than will have to go into such services or benefits.

By having public employees subjected to the new realities or humiliation if you talk to some public employees, Republican State Governors can now go ahead with other previously nursed changes that they have regarding the complete annihilation of public employees. You may argue that this is an exaggeration and that the courts are there to provide a measurable evaluation of instituted public policies that adversely affect the welfare of public employees unions in totality; however, these are issues that will be subjected to litigation, a process that takes a number of years, by which time, more dislocations or havoc may have been wreaked in the lives of the public employees’ households.

The new onslaught from Republican governors, hopefully, will allow union leaders, public and private, to re-evaluate their relevance to the labor force or their membership; and, afford them the opportunity to glean insight to making informed decisions regarding union membership and welfare; and, what it means to be a public employee union member in current day America. Further, if necessary, union leaders may want to re-consider their participation in party politics, consult with their lobbyists regarding past contribution to candidates, and re-evaluate their support for candidates for public office that may do them harm, such as denying them the rights to negotiation on issues as mundane as their salaries. Union leadership will likely be in a more proactive mode in exploring the background or preferences of candidates seeking public offices; including evaluating if a candidate for a public office fits their membership goals and profile. Public Union leaders must now be in a candidature’s accountability mode, including assessing the potential that a candidate for public office may make or take public policies that will be at variance with public employee union members' objectives; and/or, impact the welfare of their membership and their households.

Over the years, public union activism has been on the decline and there are even indications that states and federal governments have never in the past suffered any repercussions for taking on public employees’ unions. President Ronald Reagan did it with the airport traffic controller and got away with it. Many more altercations with public employees’ unions have taken place over the years without an iota of reaction. Experience has shown that reactions or developments after a political official takes the initiative to take on public employees unions, have often been lukewarm because many public union leaders and members are beholden to the apparatus of public sector executives, an arrangement that gives political official the opportunity to deny their inner intentions on legislative or administrative actions that impacts the welfare of public employees unions. The current threats to the public union’s rights to negotiation must be understood in light of the leveraging power that someone in a high office as a governor or President has over public employees and their unions. Public Employee union members may have expected otherwise, however, the new reality probably points to the old clichĂ©: elections results have consequences.

Next Step: Changing status of State’s Budgets and the impact on Public Employee Union

It is probably incontestable that Republican Governors are out to bulldoze unions, under the auspices of managing states’ budgets deficits; and, the chances of bursting union influence on public employee’s salaries and benefits negotiations are just too rosy in an under-performing economy environment. Further, the atmosphere in the country, where much of public’s attention is focused on getting the economy on the right footing or job creation, makes it somewhat acceptable for a governor to go after any budget reduction initiative. Republican governors may be able to balance their budget on the back of public employees for now, but can they be sure that public employees will be willing to live up to their potential after the humiliation they are being subjected to; especially with the abridgment of their rights to negotiate for increase or better working conditions? Probably Not!

Ensuring that State budgets are balanced in a budget cycle or year hardly guarantees future explosion of state government spending, considering the bureaucracy that is heavily associated with how government works. The argument that there are enough waste in government is often well taken; however, an all out assault on employees assigned to effect government policies may end up having a boomerang effect. While the private sector’s decision making process are swift and immediate with respect to profit-making, public sector and public employee’s decision making are often by the book, which makes efficiency, unattainable in many cases in government work, and which in turn impact waste in government and State’s Budgets. The challenge of the public work environment makes it difficult to atone for the inefficiency associated with public employees’ decision making, a variable that impact state budget’s efficiency or performance; and hardly has been appropriately addressed even with many ongoing reforms in states’ budgets. Until decision-making process in public service are at per with technology changes, no one is certain that states in the union experiencing current lopsided budget deficits, will overcome current conundrums associated with state’s expenditures and which some Republican governors have chosen to address by dismantling the public employees’ unions’ rights to negotiate on salaries, benefits and more.

While household heads and public unions members have reasons to be concerned about their future in light of the current aggression from some States’ Houses, it is probably difficult for a State Governor to outlast the public employees or their unions; or, able to make things happen once out of office. Seating Republican Governors may think, I’ve got to make thing happen and I know I can make this work by balancing the State Budgets on the back of public employees’ unions, experience however has thought us that while it may seem that the political office holder is winning on an issue as difficult as dislodging public employees’ right to negotiate on issues that affect their welfare, public employees know and understand the working environment of government and can trip or create events that can trip wasteful and aggressive government spending without the public official being able to make a difference. Republican Governors may attempt to undermine the union rights to negotiate; however, can they hold many government officials against unusual demands that may catapult into waste while being masqueraded as the implementation of public policies? Hardly so, we can identify a long list of examples of these in government programs and services. This however, does not say a governor should not attempt to cut waste, but there are areas that the governor may want to be watchful, because of the potential repercussions, especially when it comes to employees’ right that are readily available in the private sector.

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