A.G. Sulzberger and Monica Davey in today’s New York Times have written a surprisingly fair assessment of the growing discontent between public and private sector unions in Wisconsin as a result of the recent events in Madison. I say “surprisingly” because theNew York Times can usually be counted upon to parrot the Democrat response to the issues of the day. What the article shows is that there is limited sympathy between rural and private sector union members and the public sector unions protesting the proposed legislation.
The effort to weaken bargaining rights for public-sector unions has been particularly divisive, with some people questioning the need to tackle such a fundamental issue to solve the state’s budget problems.
But more often the conversation has turned to the proposals to increase public workers’ contributions to their pensions and health care, and on these issues people said they were less sympathetic, and often grew flushed and emotional telling stories of their own pay cuts and financial worries.
Perhaps most intriguing about this article is the description of “resentment” and lack of sympathy between the sectors. As one Wisconsin resident illustrates, non-public sector union workers of all stripes have simply been asked to give up too much in recent years to feel that concessions in the public sector are too much to ask.
Wisconsin’s financial problems are not as dire as those of many other states. But a simmering resentment over those lost jobs and lost benefits in private industry — combined with the state’s history of highly polarized politics — may explain why Wisconsin, once a pioneer in supporting organized labor, has set off a debate that is spreading to other states over public workers, unions and budget woes.
There are deeply divided opinions and shifting allegiances over whether unions are helping or hurting people who have been caught in the recent economic squeeze. And workers themselves, being pitted against one another, are finding it hard to feel sympathy or offer solidarity, with their own jobs lost and their benefits and pensions cut back or cut off.
“Everyone else needs to pinch pennies and give more money to health insurance companies and pay for their own retirement,” said Cindy Kuehn as she left Jim and Judy’s Food Market in Palmyra. “It’s about time the buck stops.”
As we have attempted to show over the past week, the current budget deficit crises facing many (if not all) states require immediate, and possibly drastic measures to solve. The New York Times article goes on to suggest that many Wisconsin private sector union members understand this (in stark contrast to their public sector counterparts).
Among the top five employers here are the county, the schools and the city. And that was enough to make Mr. Hahan, a union man from a union town, a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker’s sweeping proposal to cut the benefits and collective-bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin, a plan that has set off a firestorm of debate and protests at the state Capitol. He says he still believes in unions, but thinks those in the public sector lead to wasteful spending because of what he sees as lavish benefits and endless negotiations.
“Something needs to be done,” he said, “and quickly.”
Kudos to the New York Times for this article. It stays about as neutral as the New York Times can get (probably more so) and provides an important look at the true feelings of Wisconsin residents, away from all of the shouting and sign-waving.