It was a Happy New Year beginning for wealthy corporate interests in Wisconsin last month when newly-elected Republican Governor Scott Walker assumed both office and the delusion that no one would particularly notice when he signed a series of bills in his opening weeks granting $140 million dollars to out-of-state corporations in tax relief. Equally preposterous was Walker’s naiveté in supposing that the $137 million dollar state budget shortfall thus created could be blamed on Wisconsin’s unionized government employees, except several police and firefighter groups which supported him in his recent election campaign, loyalty having its place in pay backs.
Wisconsin is no California.
Besides winning Super Bowl XLV, beating top-ranked Ohio State in basketball and brewing beer by the boatload, the Badger State proudly waltzed into 2011 with a budget actually in balance, more rare in our times than a good hair day for Donald Trump. That’s until Walker and fellow Republicans in the Wisconsin House and Senate, having ridden November’s Tea Party Wave to super majority status, whacked off that cool 140 million for their friends. Giddy with glee, Walker then proceeded to pronounce Wisconsin’s unionized governmental employees, save those with squad cars or fire trucks, guilty of gross financial malfeasance. How? By being paid according to their union contract. Their penalty? The 2011 “Budget Repair Bill” (SS 11), introduced and voted on in less than a single week.
SS 11 was designed to strip the ability of Wisconsin public employee unions to bargain over pensions, health insurance and working conditions and would limit those unions to negotiate only on base wages. But there will be no discussions over an immediate increase in forced, arbitrary contributions to health and pension plans amounting to several thousand dollars annually. That’s a done deal. So be it!
The proposal marks a sad and ironic shift for Wisconsin, which in 1959 was the first State to pass a comprehensive collective bargaining law for public employees and was the birthplace in 1932 of Wisconsin State Employees/Council 24. This seed of a dream later grew to become today’s AFSCME, The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, by far the largest national union representing all non-federal public employees.
A bit of honest personal disclosure now seems appropriate and important.
I’ve been on both sides of a picket line.
I was an elected Audit Man for NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians) Local 46 at WTAC in Flint during the ‘60’s and was President and General Manager of that same facility, negotiating for station ownership against NABET in the late ‘70’s. Mind you, this was in Flint, Michigan, home of the United Auto Workers and site of the historic 1936 Sit-down Strike at General Motors which brought forth an American middle class now endangered as never before.
I believe I learned three things in Flint:
(1) Unrestrained unionism yields anarchistic chaos.
(2) Unchecked management breeds aristocratic tyranny.
(3) Blessed is the balance.
Wisconsin is not alone in what any fair minded individual should regard as thinly veiled, politically expedient union busting. Similar legislation against collective bargaining by governmental employees, including police and firefighters, is pending in Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Nevada and Tennessee.
In 1987, I was honored being asked by the UAW to narrate a live radio and TV broadcast of their 50th Anniversary Parade through the streets of Flint and produce a thirty minute “Fireworks Spectacular” on the banks of the Flint River in the heart of downtown, complete with lasers and a synchronized symphonic soundtrack. By then, I was the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of a seven station non-union group, but had always attempted to be enthusiastically participatory in all community events regardless of worker affiliation or lack thereof.
In preparing a formal ten minute recorded introduction to the festivities, I visited UAW archives in Detroit and discovered a dusty old 78 rpm Gramophone disc from 1932, an old activist marching song which I wrote into the script.
On a hot summer night at dusk, through dozens of speakers with thousands of watts pumping into a hundred thousand Michigan ears — came chilling words from a not too distant past — and a title explaining this Cavanaugh’s own powerful reluctance to join any union damning bandwagons of this moment or any other.
“No Irish Need Apply!”
With St. Paddy’s Day just weeks away, I trust such sentiments referencing ANY national origin will forever remain properly abandoned on the trash heap of history, never to be resurrected by thuggish throwbacks to meaner streets and uglier days. Or that time-honored collective bargaining ever be cavalierly condemned by precocious newbie Governors looking for press.
NOTE: This particular posting was chosen as both title and lead chapter in a new digital book and is available now at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AG6YNCYand https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/260463