The protests and demonstrations in Wisconsin over Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to break the back of organized labor at the direction of the Koch Brothers have brought forth a barrage of lies and misinformation from Fox News, The Heritage Foundation, and Tea Party groups meant to subvert the narrative into an attack on America. As support grows for the public employees protesting for nothing more than the right to bargain collectively, conservatives have ramped up the level of noise and misinformation to enrage citizens ignorant of the nature of the protests and on a larger scale, union representation.
The issue in Wisconsin is not the budget or that teachers, police officers, and firefighters are making too much money, but simply the right to bargain for wages. Without collective bargaining, the governor has the right to dictate the wages and working conditions public employees must accept without recourse or input into the process. If one were to listen to conservative pundits, public employees are draining the state treasury and thumbing their noses at taxpayers while their students are failing miserably. Although that nonsense plays well with tea party members who believe all public employees are bad and Republicans who are hell-bent on privatizing every last vestige of government, it is nothing but propaganda.
There are many misconceptions about employee unions that the public is unaware of because they only hear that unions are anti-American. Union representation only gives its members a collective voice during negotiations and little else. Wisconsin’s governor has singled out public school teachers, but his bill affects all unions and their members including firefighters, policemen, and various civil servants. Walker has targeted teachers because in general, people revere police and fire fighters as a necessary part of society and are less inclined to think of them in a negative light. Conversely, teachers are thought of as little more than overpriced babysitters who have jobs they cannot be fired from and are draining valuable resources from the rest of society.
Society as we know it owes a debt of gratitude to public school teachers for teaching every student who steps into their classrooms. Unlike other professions, teachers do not get to pick their clientele and do not have the luxury of picking their curriculum. A popular misconception is that once a teacher is granted tenure they cannot be terminated. Tenure is a guarantee that a school administrator cannot fire a teacher without a reason. Teachers who have not yet been granted tenure face the possibility of termination for no reason whatsoever. If tenure meant a teacher could not be laid off or fired, how are school districts able to lay off teachers when budgets require it? The tenure myth is being propagated in every state in the nation by conservatives who promote school vouchers as a means of privatizing schools.
The Heritage Foundations is promoting the lies that teachers in Wisconsin are responsible for the state’s budget deficit, poor performance and low graduation rates, and draining the state treasury by getting free pensions. Teachers pay in to retirement accounts just like every other employee in the country only at a higher rate than Social Security. They also pay for their health insurance at a rate negotiated by the state. Teachers lost as much of their retirement during the financial meltdown as any other investors, and unlike Social Security contributions, have no recourse to recoup any losses. When Wisconsin’s governor took office, there was a budget surplus that he immediately gave to oil companies in the form of tax credits. One thing is abundantly clear; the governor’s ban on collective bargaining will not fix the state’s budget woes and he knows it. What is clear is that Wisconsin’s teachers enjoy a graduation rate that is the envy of the country and it has everything to do with the quality of its teachers.
The graduation rates of states that have outlawed collective bargaining occupy the very bottom of 50 states. For example, Virginia’s rate is 69%, Texas’ rate is 65%, North Carolina is 63%, and Georgia’s rate is 56% and rank 46 – 49 of 50 states. Wisconsin’s graduation rate is 82% and is the second highest in the nation. Wisconsin’s teachers are doing a great job, and are intelligent enough to know the economic climate means they will have to make sacrifices by taking pay cuts. Teachers all over the country have taken drastic pay cuts and furlough days to do their part in a bad economy and they do it gladly. However, when the economy is in better shape, they want the ability to bargain for a fair wage and without collective bargaining, they lose that capability.
There is one other misconception about unions that the general public is unaware of and that is if a teacher wants to, they can sign a form that states they do not want any part of their dues going to political parties the union lobbies. It is a way of guaranteeing that a Republican teacher will not have one penny of their union dues going to Democratic candidates and it is ultimately fair to all members.
As many writers have propounded over the past week or so, Governor Walker is doing the bidding of his sponsors and contributors the Koch Brothers who are rabid to break the back of organized labor. Because they are too cowardly to state their purpose, they have enlisted the Heritage Foundation, Fox News, and tea party members to spread lies and misinformation about teachers and public employee unions. It is interesting that Governor Walker told police and firefighters that they are immune from the ban on collective bargaining, but once the ban is in effect, it applies to all organized labor. Walker does not want to alienate voters by risking the support of those two groups. Apparently, Governor Walker miscalculated the solidarity of all union members because they all share the same benefit and that is collective bargaining.
The misinformation and lies from conservatives should not be surprising to anyone who has lived through the last decade. Unions have always faced opposition from corporations, conservatives, and even religious groups who claim unions are full of godless liberals and anti-American communists. One thing is certain though, union workers are held to a higher standard of performance because of standards set by the unions and not the private sector. They also know that if they go to the union with a grievance, their performance had better be at the highest level or the union will not intervene in their behalf.
Governor Walker on the other hand, has incurred the wrath of all union members around the country because one misconception he had was that it was just one group of union members he was mistreating. That should now be put to rest because when he picked on one segment of the union family, he picked on millions, and although the Koch brothers have unlimited resources, they are just two men. Two very evil men who may have underestimated the power and solidarity of millions of workers who teach, fight crime and fires, and stand together against lies and misinformation. It is refreshing to finally see Americans wake up and stand against tyranny from an oil company and their shill in the governor’s mansion.