Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Governor's emails. Good faith or Machiavellian?

Did I fall asleep last night and wake up a week ago?  Yesterday the governor's office selectively leaked a number of emails between his staff and the Dem14 (and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau) that seemed to be pointing to a compromise as to some of the restrictions that the Budget Repair Bill would impose on public employee's collective bargaining rights.  Included in proposed modifications specifically extended  by the Governor were the following:

• Public employee union bargaining over wages would no longer be limited to the rate of inflation as established by the CPI.

• Unions would be allowed to bargain over certain economic issues, including mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay and classroom size. On this set of issues, both labor and management would have to agree to discuss them for bargaining to happen.  And for each new contract the joint agreement to make the issue subject to bargaining would have to be re-established.

• Unions could bargain over workplace safety, but that would be limited to workers' physical health and safety. It would not allow bargaining over hours, overtime, sick leave or family leave, work schedules or vacation.

• Unions would have to vote every three years to remain active, with the first of those votes coming within one year of the bill becoming law. The current version of the bill would require unions to vote to recertify every year - starting this April - and require them to get at least 51% of workers' votes.

• Employees of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority would not lose all union bargaining rights.

• The Legislature's budget committee would have to approve changes to state health programs for the poor sought by the Walker administration. The budget-repair bill gives Walker broad powers to reshape those Medicaid health programs, which cover more than 1 million state residents.

While this fell far short of the changes the Dem14 seemingly wanted to see to come back from Illinois, they were a substantial improvement over the existing provisions in the BRB.  Apparently the negotiations between the Governor's staff and the Dem14 and the GOP legislative leadership broke down enough that the Republicans decided to push through an amended BRB last night without any meaningful notice. (When you saw how quickly the Capitol filled up last night, the lack of meaningful notice seemed both perspicacious and prophylactic on the part of the Republicans.)

Did any of the above provisions that the governor offered as compromises make it into the amended bill?  Not that I can tell by reviewing the amended bill today.  Presumably the Governor was of the view that the above modifications would strike a balance between the interests of Wisconsin taxpayers (as he saw that interest) and the interest of the public labor unions.  So if those modifications were reasonable as of March 6, why didn't they make it into the amended bill?  The GOP leadership will have to shed light on this.  My suspicion is that the GOP was never serious about the alterations to the BRB, and offered up only modifications that they knew would not be acceptable to the Dem14.  When the expected impasse was reached, the GOP passed the amended bill as a means of inflicting maximum damage on the employee unions while being able to say "it's the Democrats' fault that no changes were made."  I think its clear it was just about inflicting harm on unions.  Go back and listen to what Scott Fitzgerald said to Fox News here.

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