My nephew works in a unionized workplace, and he raised a point regarding the Wisconsin standoff that is so obvious and fundamental that it rather amazes me the no one, me included, has raised it in the discussion already. He asked how useful is collective bargaining when the only subject on the table is wages?
It’s not that the point changes the argument; it doesn’t really. The point is still that the governor is trying to essentially eliminate collective bargaining. But the point should still be made by clarifying what that process is, because the governor says that he is leaving them with the “ability to negotiate their wages,” and that is not true. By spelling out the process that is used in the collective bargaining process, the falsity of his position is easily revealed. He is not leaving them with the ability to negotiate wages.
I have engaged in labor negotiations, both on the labor side and for management, and the process is not simply “what will the wages be?” It is a process of balancing working conditions and benefits against wages. The better the working conditions and/or the greater the benefits, the less the wage increases need to be. Work rules are huge from a management standpoint, because they can have less effect on cash flow relative to the amount of wage reduction that they achieve but, depending on the nature of them, can also be extremely costly.
If you eliminate work rules and benefits as points of negotiation, leaving only wages, you are reduced to only the question of whether or not the workers will strike over the issue of wages and, since the law does not allow public sector workers to strike, you have reduced them to the status of non-union workers, to that of merely going to the boss and asking for a raise without any power to back up that request.
So if Governor Walker thinks that public sector unions are detrimental to his state and wants to eliminate them he certainly has the right to try to do that, but his statements about not taking away the unions’ right to bargain regarding their wages are just plain false. He is doing precisely that. The governor is trying to do something while claiming he’s not doing it.