Alan Borsuk wonders if the Governor Walker might have avoided a recall had he talked about his reforms before trying to implement. Could there, he wonders, have been a "kumbaya"" moment?
Not very likely.
The Governor has himself suggested that he might have done a better
job of rolling out his initiative on collective bargaining. But there is
no way that the Governor and public employee unions would have agreed
on a reform package.
That is because changing the nature of collective bargaining was
essential to the Governor's vision. As I have written before, a union
is a form of cartel. It is designed to shift the supply curve of a
labor in a way that results in higher wages and benefits - and more
restrictive work rules - than would result in a free market in which
employees bargained individually.
In the private sector, the result is some combination of higher
wages,reduced employment and lower profits. As markets have become more
competitive, the advantages to workers of unionization has diminshed and
private sector unions are in steep decline.
But, in the publice sector, there are no profits to be lowered so
unionization can only increase the cost and reduce the efficiency of
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that government is not
subject to the discipline of the market place and public employee
unions become a vested and powerful interest that can place pressure on
it in a way that, say, the UAW cannot influence Ford.
Now, if you believe that the government, left to its own devices,
would abuse its workers, this may be a price you are willing to pay.
Given that almost everyone else manages to work without the protection
of a union free of abuse, this seems implausible. But my point is that
Walker's objective went far beyond saving some money on pensions and
health insurance. He wanted to do for government what the President talk
about doing for health care. He wanted to bend the cost curve.
But there is more. Unionization requires an employer to treat its
employees as a collective. It tends to preclude or minimize the
consideration of individual merits in favor of lock step compensation
and emphasis of seniority. In an effort to protect employees from unfair
work decisions, unions often protect poor workers at the expense of
To change this was not an attack on "workers" and "public
employees." To the extent, it undoubtedly saved many jobs and paves the
way to treat workers - particularly teachers - like professionals
rather than assembly line workers.
But there is no way that it was going to happen without a fight. The
Governor has been accused of having a political motivation. Public
employee unions tend to support Democrats. (Labor organizations
representing over 70% of police and fire employees supported Barrett as
did all other public employee unions.) But the accusation cuts both
ways. If it is politically advantageous for the Governor to reduce the
power pf public employee unions, it was equally advantageous for
Democrats to enhance it.
Kumbaya was not in the cards.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin