Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Walzing Around The Truth

Last week Tim Walz, the Democrat Congressman from MN-1, felt compelled to stick his nose into Wisconsin state politics with this press release:

Our nation was founded on a simple, but revolutionary idea. That the government could be of the people, by the people and for the people. The people of Wisconsin are standing up for their right to band together to negotiate decent working conditions and a fair wage and they simply want their voice to be heard.

Yesterday, by voting on a non-fiscal measure to strip the people of their right to collectively bargain, Wisconsin Republicans proved what we have known all along. This has never been about the budget. It’s been about limiting the rights and the voice of ordinary, working Americans.

But you can’t silence Americans by cutting them out of the political process when it’s convenient or even by banning them from entering their own state capitol. I have every reason to believe the people of Wisconsin will continue to raise their voices for freedom and I applaud their efforts.
The comparison of the plight of public sector employees with the first principles of democracy is the primary talking point among the left. I tuned into MSNBC last week, during the height of one of the protests, and "democracy" and "rights" were the constant chant among the liberal pundits and activists interviewed. Looks like our intrepid Congressman got the memo on Message Discipline.

But it's a strange comparison, especially in the context Walz uses. The opposing forces in the Wisconsin debate are the elected government of Wisconsin versus its employees. The government is a product of that Lincolnesque ideal Walz uses as his crutch. It was elected by the people, for the people. And even if the Governor and legislators didn't get 100% of the vote, they represent ALL of the people. That's how we agree to govern ourselves, via a representative democracy elected by majorities.

On the other hand, government employee unions do not represent anybody but themselves. And their numbers are a distinct minority of the people. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, the union membership rate in the United States was 11.9% of wage and salary workers. In Wisconsin, the percentage is slightly higher at 14.2%.

So, it's not, as Walz sez, "The people of Wisconsin are standing up for their right to band together to negotiate decent working conditions and a fair wage. At best, it's one out of seven people, organized as a special interest, standing up against the government of the entire people. (Actually, it's even less than that. 14.2% includes both public and private sector unions, the latter of which are unaffected by the proposed changes in Wisconsin).

Regarding that second part of his statement, employees trying to "negotiate decent working conditions at a fair wage", the BLS shines some sunlight on that as well. As measured by the median weekly salary of full-time wage and salary employees, those represented by unions had earnings 27% higher than non-unionized employees ($917 to $717). Based down to public sector employees only, unionized individuals earn 20% more than those not in unions ($961 to $801, per week).

These disparate compensation numbers reflect only salary and wages. They don't consider additional benefits like health care and retirement, both of which are given to public sector employees far more generously than what private sector workers experience. Taken together with higher salary/wages, about those negotiations for decency and fairness Tim Walz, I think they can stop, mission accomplished!

Unfortunately, the consequences of that accomplishment are fiscally ruinous to state governments. Even in high tax environments like Wisconsin or Minnesota, multi-billion dollar deficits are now the norm. If the expense structure of government is not changed, these shortfalls will grow even larger. Asking the people, many of whom are facing financial challenges themselves, to pay more and more to fund their employees already generous compensation packages is the opposite of fairness and decency.

If you're wondering why an elected Representative of the people, like Tim Walz, seems to care more for the 14% than the 86% forced to pay for them, the byline provided in his press release may give us a clue:

Walz is a high school teacher on leave from Mankato West High School while he serves in Congress.

Nice to see he hasn't forgotten his real constituency.