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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Issue of the Week: Walker's History of Abusing Workers

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Gov. Scott Walker has tried to pass off his attempt to gut public employee unions as a reasonable request. In national interviews, he's been given a pass on his assertion that the unions rejected his proposed 35-hour workweek for Milwaukee County workers in lieu of layoffs. Poor Walker, right? Those big, bad "government unions" are always ganging up on him!

Hardly.

The truth is that Walker did indeed try to unilaterally impose a 35-hour workweek on county workers, with a commensurate decrease in salary, and the unions did, in fact, push back. But the unions had reason to do so. In fact, an arbitrator found that Walker had overstepped his authority as Milwaukee County executive in ordering that shortened workweek. A state appeals court upheld that ruling.

That's only one battle in Walker's larger war on workers. As county executive, he ignored his own labor negotiator's tentative agreements with county unions and instead wrote in $32 million of wage and benefits concessions in his 2010 county budget. Like the concessions he's proposed as governor, they had never been presented to unions at the bargaining table. He then imposed 26 unpaid furlough days in 2010 on members of the county's biggest union in order to balance his out-of-whack budget.

Last fall, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission found that his administration had bargained in "bad faith."

Never one to learn from his mistakes, Walker's 2011 county budget also contains concessions that had never been negotiated with unions.

Walker has also threatened mass layoffs as a tactic to get unions to make concessions, just like he's doing now as governor.

Also deemed unfair was Walker's decision to privatize courthouse security—and get rid of unionized county employees. The county must now hire back those workers—and give them their back pay, which could cost the county $430,000.

His new attack on unions as governor is also generating legal challenges. On Monday, Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Langley issued an opinion claiming that Walker's interference in the city's contracts with workers is unconstitutional. In addition, Wisconsin State Employees Union AFSCME Council 24 has filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission charging that Walker has failed to negotiate in good faith with state workers.

Walker's attack on unions is unfair and un-American. No wonder why a new national poll found that 60% of Americans support public employees' right to collectively bargain. Only 33% support Walker's position. Similarly, 56% oppose cutting public workers' pay or benefits to reduce deficits, while only 37% favor it.

Even more damning, a statewide poll found that if the election for governor were held today, Walker would lose to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 52%-45%. Once Walker showed his true colors, Wisconsin voters realized he is far too extreme for our state.

Issue of the Week

Signs of the Protest

Gov. Scott Walker has attempted to discredit protesters at the state Capitol as out-of-state union agitators, but all indications are that the people, including those at Saturday's 70,000-strong protest, are largely a diverse crowd from Wisconsin—with a great sense of humor. Here are some of the signs Walker refuses to witness at the people's protests:

"Heaven sent a budget solution: tax the rich"

Walker is so crooked he has to screw his socks on in the morning"

This is an intervention: Walker is a Koch addict"

  • "Pepsi, no Koch"
  • "Let's be friends with benefits"
  • "Scott Walker isn't a badger, he's a weasel"
  • "The Fitzgerald is Walker's favorite breed of lapdog"
  • "The problem with political jokes is that they get elected"
  • "Proof that too many Wisconsinites have tried Koch"
  • "Walker isn't a Packer, he's a stealer"
  • "Aaron Rodgers for governor" (the Super Bowl MVP is the team's rep for the NFL Players Association)
  • "Every teacher has more education than Walker"
  • "If you can read this sign, thank a teacher"


Hero of the Week

Janet Kumbier

There are heroes who step up in times of crisis. And there are those who use their resourcefulness and ingenuity to make a difference every day. Janet Kumbier and her husband, Richard, are valued members of the latter group.

For the last 10 years, the Kumbiers have been collecting used and discarded clothing, which they then wash, stitch and circulate to the needy. The couple regularly donates to Repairers of the Breach and the free store The Price Is Right.

At year's end, area high schools amass literally truckloads of clothes left behind by students; the couple cleans, refurbishes and distributes these items to, among other places, the children of the Lakota Sioux Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

In addition to their stateside largesse, the Kumbiers have performed missionary work in such countries as India, Honduras and Chile. Kumbier says that her efforts are the least she can do, considering that "there are so many people who can't even afford clothes," and thanks the members of her parish who help her and her husband with their endeavors to help the less fortunate.

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