APPLETON — Hours after Gov. Scott Walker announced his plan to strip away most collective bargaining rights from public employee unions, protesters and unions statewide vowed to fight back.
About 125 protesting union members and local school workers welcomed the governor as he entered the offices of the local newspaper Appleton Post-Crescent on Friday afternoon.
After talking to reporters for an hour about his new budget repair package, the governor exited through a back door.
Sarah Dilley, a special education teacher in Appleton, said she felt Walker was attacking public employee unions.
“I want him — it’s emotional — I want him to understand that this is affecting a lot more than a budget, that there are people behind this, families, that there’s a better way to do things than targeting a group of people,” she said.
Walker announced early Friday plans to all but end collective bargaining rights for the state’s public employee unions, as the first steps in an effort to address a $136.7 million budget shortfall in the current biennium and a budget expected to be $3.6 billion in the red in the next biennium.
He also is pushing for greater employee contributions for pension and health care plans.
Union workers across the state immediately protested.
When asked about filing a legal challenger to Walker’s union proposals, Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell said she would have to take a closer look.
“We’ll look at whatever we can do to fight this,” she said.
The governor stressed he would not seek to negotiate with union leaders, who represent the affected 175,000 state and local employees.
“For those who might ask, ’Why not bargain for this?’ Again, we’re not negotiating over a budget. If you’re going to negotiate, you’re going to do it in good faith, you have to have something to offer. The state’s broke, local governments (are) broke. They don’t have anything to offer,” he said.
As of now, unions have the ability to collectively bargain on their wages, pension contributions and health care plans.
Under Walker’s budget repair package, unions would only be able to collectively bargain their wages. Any wage increases above the rate of inflation would require voter approval.
The governor is also pushing to make Wisconsin a “Right to Work” state where public employees have the option of not financially supporting unions. As of now, unionized state workers take a cut in their wages to pay union dues.
Collective bargaining groups that cover local police, firefighters and state troopers would be exempt from the changes in Walker’s budget repair package.
Tom Kemp, associate professor economics as well as president of the faculty union United Faculty of UW-Eau Claire, said university employees feel like they’ve been “stabbed in the back” by Walker.
“We all got into this mess collectively, yet only a handful of us are being asked to foot the bill for it,” he said.
Kevin Crawford, former mayor of Manitowoc, said Walker’s tough stance on public employees was the practical approach.
“The fact of the matter is bargaining is just kind of out of control for public employees. It’s really a difficult environment to work in. When you go in expecting only to maintain, never to gain any traction, it’s a difficult way to manage and govern a city,” he said.
Walker also stayed true to a campaign promise of requiring public employees to contribute a greater cut of their salaries to their health care plans and pensions. As of now, public employees make no contributions to their pensions and a modest contribution to their health care plans.