Thursday, February 17, 2011

Some Comments on Wisconsin

I'm sure you are following the events in Wisconsin where the state budget is balanced on the backs of certain types of state employees and by using a very long-reaching weapon: The Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, wanted to take away most collective bargaining rights of state employees. Without such rights each tiny worker unit faces a humongous state structure in a fair-and-balanced way:
But even as workers were helping topple the regime in Cairo, one state government in particular was moving to topple workers' organizations here in the United States. Last Friday, Scott Walker, Wisconsin's new Republican governor, proposed taking away most collective bargaining rights of public employees. Under his legislation, which has moved so swiftly through the newly Republican state legislature that it might come to a vote Thursday, the unions representing teachers, sanitation workers, doctors and nurses at public hospitals, and a host of other public employees, would lose the right to bargain over health coverage, pensions and other benefits. (To make his proposal more politically palatable, the governor exempted from his hit list the unions representing firefighters and police.) The only thing all other public-sector workers could bargain over would be their base wages, and given the fiscal restraints plaguing the states, that's hardly anything to bargain over at all.
You know what happened next.

I wish to point out something else, hidden deep below all the other concerns, and that is the fact that the police and the fire fighters would be exempt from the governor's proposals but teachers would not be. What is the major demographic difference between those two groups?

Gender. Police and fire fighters are mostly male whereas the teachers are mostly female.

I'm sure that Walker didn't aim at some sexist way of dividing the burden of budget deficits here, just pointing out that if the unions representing the police and fire fighters were in general exempted from budget control proposals, the overall effect would be to increase the gender gap in male and female earnings in Wisconsin.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie went after the fire fighters in 2007 so Wisconsin might not be a general Republican template. But it's worth pointing out that state level layoffs and pay and pension cuts will have a big effect on female workers.