For those of you who follow my Twitter feed, it should come as no surprise that I’ve been focusing much of my energy on Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s proposal to end union bargaining rights for UW state employees for anything other than pay. This proposal, of course, has me frustrated on so many levels: I would oppose the plan on principle alone – it just seems backwards to me to allow the governor to unilaterally end collective bargaining, not to mention undemocratic – but I have a more personal stake in this battle as well: as a member of the TAA and a UW-Madison employee, this will affect my department and potentially me personally.
Walker’s justification for this move is twofold: that we have a budget deficit so they can’t bargain and that this will prevent more layoffs of state employees. I find this logic flawed: the university system contributes a lot more to the economy than the government puts in and Wisconsin public employees are already underpaid.
If this weren’t bad enough, Walker’s aggressive stance about his proposal has exacerbated tensions. He has put the National Guard on stand-by to prevent any “disruptions” in state services. He has also exempted firefighters and police officers from this ban on collective bargaining, in what some call political “payback” for those who supported his election campaign.
If Walker’s proposal does in fact pass, I think that UW-Madison will be seriously hurt as an institution – especially if they are the only school to institute these draconian changes. If you think of UW-Madison as a business – setting aside any benefit to society we offer – a business can’t attract the best employees with an inferior package. Which school do you think graduate students, when given a choice between a program that offers tuition remission (i.e., grad school with no debt) and one that doesn’t? The same is true at every level: what professor, even if their package isn’t cut, will want to come to a school with an unhappy staff and few graduate students? As a business, the university is looking pretty good – and a businessman like Scott Walker should know that helping business is good for the deficit.
Ultimately, Walker’s plan will not only hurt the University of Wisconsin, but hurt the state of Wisconsin as well.