Last night, I heard on Fox News from Stephen Hayes that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker had run on a platform to end collective bargaining rights for public sector unions. I can find no evidence of this in the public record. It isn't on his campaign platform where he deals with "government spending and reform". It's clear that he vowed to slash pay and benefits for public sector unions. Here's an obviously liberal-leaning report that says
Republican gubernatorial front-runner Scott Walker is vowing to cut state employee wages and benefits to help reduce state taxes on the wealthy.
But not end their collective bargaining rights on everything but wages. There's no reference to any such bid in the final gubernatorial debate. Here's another substantive piece on Walker's positions on public sector unions from before the election. Again no mention of collective bargaining. The same can be said about his State of the State address on February 1.
Why does this matter?
Because it seems to me that Walker has a case that democracy means he gets to fulfill his campaign promises. And it also seems to me that the public sector unions should concede much of what Walker is asking for in contributions to their pensions, healthcare etc. And here's why:
Between 1958 and 1974, public teacher pay increased an average of 6 percent a year. After a bitter 1974 teachers’ strike in the small town of Hortonville that galvanized public unions, teacher pay increased an average of 7 percent annually for the next 16 years. It was also during this time that the state and local governments began paying the full amount of public employees’ pension benefits.
That very generous deal was doubtless helped by a very cosy relationship with the Democratic party which is in turn is largely financed by unions, often public sector ones. Hence the inherent tendency for such unions to over-influence their own compensation through the political process. There is an argument, especially after the Citizens' United ruling, that such special clout is necessary to counter-act the massive clout of business or people such as the Koch brothers. But in Wisconsin, it sure doesn't look to me as if the public sector unions have been struggling for the last few decades.
So I think Walker is absolutely right to target such benefits for cuts, given the outlook for the state budget, and the current strains on those in the private sector (although I think it's nuts to simultaneously reduce revenues). But I can also see, given the record of the campaign, why this radical new move - raising the stakes far higher - has prompted the response it has. If you campaign on one platform and then suddenly up the ante, you cannot cite democracy in your defense. And there is something bizarre about Republican commentators who cheered on Tea Party protests against a clear Obama campaign pledge - health insurance reform - suddenly decrying public protests against something a politician didn't campaign on.
Maybe I've missed something in the historical record. And if Hayes - or anyone out there - has evidence of a campaign pledge by Walker to end public sector union collective bargaining on benefits, please let me know. But going through this thoroughly, as long as the unions are prepared to make serious concessions on pay and benefits, I think Walker is over the line.