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Fight Over Collective Bargaining Rights: Attack On Middle Class or Fiscal Sanity?

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Thousands of Wisconsin citizens are taking to the streets to protest Republican Governor Scott Walker's proposal to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Republicans argue that this would help cash-strapped states like Wisconsin to keep spending in check. Democrats argue that this is nothing more than union-wisconsin protestsbusting - thus an attack on the middle class.

Collective bargaining is at the heart of union negotiating. Without it, unions are rendered powerless. Lawmakers know this. Collective agreements usually set out wage scales, working hours, training, health and safety, overtime, grievance mechanisms and rights to participate in workplace or company affairs.

Whenever there is a teacher's strike, people are quick to point out how "annoying these unions are" and "how it would be nice if they didn't exist." But, these same teachers who are a part of these so-called annoying unions have tremendously difficult jobs, especially when you consider how difficult it is to deal with today's out-of-control youth. Just ask Central Bucks East High teacher Natalie Munroe (recently suspended for rants on her blog) for her opinion on that.

Everyone from teachers to public transportation workers are represented by unions. While these unions provide good incomes for public employees, they often do have ridiculous demands. Millions of private employees have taken paycuts or have been laid off during the economic downturn and don't have the luxury of union representation. It's hard for these people to have any sympathy for public employees who seek 5% increases in pay and who refuse to pay more for health insurance. For those of us who endure the annual "open enrollment" health insurance meetings at our companies, we just roll our eyes when the day comes as it's the day when we're told our health insurance premiums are going up once again. And, our paychecks decrease as a result - year after year.

More and more Americans are against unions. Union support used to be over 60% nationwide. Now it's in the 45% range. According to the Wall Street Journal only 33.1% are in favor of state employees having collective bargaining rights.

To be clear, Governor Walker's bill would end collective bargaining for state, county and local workers, except for police, firefighters and the state patrol. This would be part of an effort to repair Wisconsin's $3.6 billion budget shortfall. 

It's no surprise that the two states seeking to end collective barganing are Wisconsin and Ohio. Scott Walker is a Tea party-backed Republican and House Speaker (from Ohio) John Boehner, has been trying to convince America that he's the face of change and fiscal responsibility in this era of rampant fiscal insanity. John Kasich is Ohio's Governor and supportive of the measures.

While Walker, Kasich, and Boehner have the right idea in mind (to control spending) they may be going about it a little too radicly. It's one thing to cut jobs, cut spending, and eliminate waste, but they're opening up a huge can of worms by trying to take away collective barganing rights for state employees. If they are to make it illegal for state workers to do this, then a precedent would be set. Then who is to say private employers won't follow suit? Forbes columnist Rick Ungar suggests that the collective bargaining battle in Wisconsin is the "Final Battle in the War Against Unions."

While Tea Party supporters are willing to allow the government to crush unions in this case, it's a very slippery slope. There's an old adage- be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it.

I'll play the devil's advocate here. Republicans say they don't the want the government making decisions for them. Well wouldn't you want to decide whether or not you want to work for a company that has a union?

Wisconsin citizens may be exchanging fiscal sanity for draconian employment laws. And, in this day and age when corporations milk the "bad economy" to justify keeping wages stagnant and forcing more producitivity out of workers, it could just further doom the working class.

Photo from goodnewspic.com

Contact Dennis Bakay at dbakay@philly2philly.com