JohnD and I have been discussing the exemption of state public safety workers from Governor Scott Walker’s bill to strip 175,000 public employees from collective bargaining rights. The move is so extreme even a police union that endorsed Walker is expressing regrets.
JohnD can, and I expect, will speak for himself, but the question of the politics behind the exemption of the public safety workers is worth addressing. While there could have been some quid pro quo for the support of four of five public unions that made endorsements in the gubernatorial election, it’s more likely that Walker’s strategy was one of divide and conquer. Their support neutralizes their criticism and, exempt from the loss of collective bargaining rights, Walker has lessened his organized opposition.
In any case, Walker’s exclusion of fire and police unions was political; it wasn’t a matter of something for something.
How can you tell Walker excluded police and firefighters for political rather than political reasons? Well, it’s safe to say his reasoing has has been not only evolving, but contradictory. On NPR, he worried about police and fire striking, but here he says,
“Currently, we’ve had a long tradition and when it comes to fire and police service in the state of Wisconsin. Statutes are very different when it comes to whole series of rights and responsibilities,” Walker said.
. That’s the political equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and saying Nah, nah, nah, I can’t hear you!”
And in response to the endorsement question, Walker misleads with the following:
There are 314 fire and police unions in the state. Four of them endorsed me. All the rest endorsed my opponent.
There may be 314 fire and police unions locals in Wisconsin, but there aren’t 314 police and fire unions.
So did Walker exempt some unions for their support? It’s doubtful. Had he included the state police, he would have had to deal with a broadening of his opposition. Walker might have had to face the possibility of police picketing, a complexity that would have been hard to navigate politically, especially since police and fire fighters are well-liked and have even enjoyed some sanctification since 9/11.
Liberal commentators (that includes my personal hero Paul Krugman) are correct in pointing out that the exempting state police and fire personnel from the abolition of collective bargaining was politically motivated, but the inferernce that it was some sort of deal is not supported by the evidence.