Feb
28
2011

What Union Voices Mean to the Wisconsin Debate

As we noted here, there weren't many labor voices booked on the Sunday morning chat shows. One, actually–Richard Trumka from the AFL-CIO.

ABC's This Week featured four governors (two Democrats, two Republicans) talking about their fiscal problems. CBS's Face the Nation had a soft interview with New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Host Bob Schieffer asked him one question that began, "You have a reputation as a straight talker, I think…." Schieffer went on to play a clip of Christie bravely calling for Social Security cuts. Instead of questioning Christie's totally inaccurate premise–that you "have to raise the retirement age"–Schieffer asked him, "Should other people be saying that?"

Over at NBC, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker could at least be challenged by another guest on the same show. They weren't on at the same time, but NBC viewers could hear Trumka say this:

Well, first of all, this isn't about the budget crisis. Let's look at how this–his arguments migrated. First he said it was–the budget crisis was caused because workers were paid too much in Wisconsin. We now have studies that show they're not overpaid, they're underpaid. In fact, people with a degree in Wisconsin get 25 percent less than their private sector things.

Then he said it was about the pension. Now we find out that his pension plan, unlike a lot in the country, is almost fully funded. The assets match the liabilities.

And then the employees said, or the members out there said, his workers said, "We'll accept your cuts." And he said: "No. We won't accept your accepting our cuts." And the most outrageous thing that he did, and he talked about this, was he's now saying to them, "You either have to accept a loss of your rights or I'm going to lay you off." Now, no person should have to face the right of their loss of their job or the loss of their rights. I know Governor Barbour would never say to his employees, his people down there, "You either have to give up your rights or you have to give up your job."

So there isn't much of a pension crisis in Wisconsin. State workers aren't overpaid. And those same workers have agreed to many of the concessions Walker is demanding. If this were part of every discussion about Wisconsin, we'd be having a far more sensible discussion.

NBC host David Gregory followed with a popular right-wing argument about public workers' unions–that their political campaign contributions mean that elected officials owe them favors:

You raise a lot of money from public employees. That goes, goes to finance campaigns to try to get somebody in office that you can do business with. And ultimately you're supporting someone, in some cases, that you're ultimately negotiating with. They also know that political employees, rather, public employees are politically active because they're organized by the unions. And so they make concessions on things like pensions, on healthcare, knowing that the promises don't come due to well down the road. Isn't this the cycle that we've gotten into that public unions have to take some responsibility for?

In other words, aren't politicians doing favors for you because you help them get elected? How often have CEOs and corporate trade associations–who have far more money than labor to give to politicians–been asked that kind of question?

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.