As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker emerges victorious from a union-backed recall campaign, it is time to step back and look at the larger picture. It is one in which unions, especially those that supposedly represent government employees, are coming under increased scrutiny and their powers are being pared back throughout the five Great Lakes states.
Gov. Walker attracted the anger of those unions when he sharply limited their bargaining authority and gave individual employees the right to decide for themselves whether or not to join or support a union. But he is hardly alone:
In Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature have passed a raft of reforms, most of them modest by themselves but fairly substantial when taken together. Emergency financial managers have the power to set aside union contracts in cities, counties, and school distracts that are approaching bankruptcy. Teacher evaluations are no longer subject to bargaining, and government unions will be required to file annual financial reports.
Here in Illinois, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is pressing for a "management" bill that will exempt nearly 2,000 high-ranking state employees from the statutory bargaining process.
Indiana has generally done less bargaining with government employees than its neighbors. Last March the state passed a right-to-work law, ensuring that all employees, public or private, can withhold dues from a union that they do not support, a move that takes the Hoosier state even further from government unionism.
In Ohio a reform bill that was similar to Wisconsin's was passed through that state's legislature and signed into law. The reform package was rejected in a referendum, but that was last November. With recent developments one suspects that the debate will resume there soon.
Collective bargaining for government employees is a process that has gone haywire, and the cost, measured in unaffordable benefits and taxes, is getting harder and harder to hide. Across five states, among both Republicans and even some Democrats, there is a consensus emerging: Collective bargaining is not indispensable, and in at least some cases it is an obstacle to good government. The real argument now is about how bad a problem it is and how far we should go to correct it.
Paul Kersey is the Illinois Policy Institute's Director of Labor Policy.
image credit: Gash, Morry. "Scott Walker." Wisconsin Recall. AP Images. 6 June 2012. [http://apimages.ap.org/]