What's The Real Message of Wisconsin?

Over at The New Republic Alec MacGillis enumerates all the reasons why public unions experienced an utter rout yesterday in Wisconsin: they were outspent; they should have attempted a referendum like their more successful comrades in Ohio rather than a recall; voters were in a pro-incumbent mood; Walker is a wily bastard who exempted cop and firefighter unions and thereby splintered the union vote.

The only reason he neglected to mention happens to also be the correct one: taxpayers straining under out-of-control union demands finally cried: “ENUFF.” But MacGillis does ask why unions don’t engage is some soul searching and self-reform now that voter mood is turning against them:

What could unions have done differently? The Wisconsin defeat is a huge blow to public employee unions, and it may well help decide the election later this month of the next president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—Danny Donohue, the challenger from New York, will surely use the Wisconsin loss an argument against Lee Saunders, the union’s current number-two and the anointed successor to outgoing president Gerald McEntee. I keep coming back to a question I’ve asked many union leaders the past few years—why did unions not make more of an effort to get out ahead of the anti-union push by engaging in more self-reform, reining in the obvious, glaring excesses (the cops in Yonkers, etc.) that have made public employee unions such an easy target for opportunistic conservatives like Walker? The union leaders rebuff this question by arguing that they simply found it wrong for their members to be scapegoated—bankers’ shenanigans had a far bigger role in the financial crisis and recession than union pensions. Which is true. It’s also true that politicians like Walker, and the groups backing them, were intent on eviscerating organized labor in a way that went beyond mere concessions over pensions and pay, which the unions in Wisconsin made clear they were prepared to make. Still, though, one can’t help but wonder whether the unions could have done more to see this coming and, by self-reforming, draw support from the median voter.

 No, they couldn't have. And for the same reason that they are out-of-control in the first place.

Whatever the flaws of private sector unions, they have a right to collectively bargain to get as big a share of company profits as is sustainable. What is sustainable? Something in line with the value they help generate. If they ask for more, employers can’t summarily fire them and hire someone else given how our labor law is currently written. But unions can’t make limitless demands forever without sucking the company dry. Hence there is some market discipline that they have to hew to even when labor law arguably gives them unfair latitude.

But there is no equivalent discipline that public sector unions have to submit to. They don’t generate profits. So there is no objective way to measure the value of their work. The main purpose of their collective bargaining powers – it is a misnomer to call them “rights” -- is to extract the most lavish wages and benefits they can possibly get from their government employer. Meanwhile, the employer, who pays from taxpayer pockets not her own, has little incentive to insist on reasonableness, especially if unions have helped put her in office. Collective bargaining powers in the public sector, then, virtually invite abuse. And so long as unions have these powers, they will have little reason to “self reform" beyond minor, cosmetic changes.

Perhaps Wisconsin voters intuited all this, which is why when they were finally invited to weigh in, they opted to clip these powers and address the root of the problem.

That’s the real message of Wisconsin.

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  • Keith3D||

    "But unions can’t make limitless demands forever without sucking the company dry. Hence there is some market discipline that they have to hew to even when labor law arguably gives them unfair latitude."

    Would GM be such an example of a company sucked dry? What have unions learned from that little experience?

  • John||

    Unions killed Studebaker and Indian Motorcycles long before they killed GM. Yeah, these people don't learn.

  • Public Citizzen||

    You can add to that list of familiar brands Consolidated Trucking [white trucks and trailers with a red and green stripe]
    After several company re-organizations and attempts to negotiate with the Teamsters they finally gave up.
    And when they did, they had no consideration for getting union drivers back home again, they stranded them wherever they where at the time of the shut down.
    What about the union helping to get people home? Didn't happen.
    Lesson to be learned here -
    Unions Live on a One Way Street that runs straight to the union bosses pockets.

  • John Thacker||

    That you need government on your side to bail you out.

  • Joe R.||

    A public sector union is by definition a conspiracy against the taxpayer.

  • TELLMOFF||

    The "public sector" adjetive changes everything about unions. They are organized against the taxpayers.

  • Pro Libertate||

    The only message I can come up with from "Wisconsin" is "Sin in cows."

    Florida's message, of course, is "Fail rod", as we attract other states' failures for some reason. The heat? The many service jobs? The crazy, yet attractive, women? Hell if I know.

  • John||

    Cosin Wins. They are very bovine and mathematically oriented up there.

  • Zeb||

    How about "scion wins"? Some sort of cryptic prophecy perhaps?

  • John||

    Only if the state animal is a hamster.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I considered that, but that seemed N/A for now. Maybe later.

    Sin in cows seems more apropos.

  • John||

    The union leaders rebuff this question by arguing that they simply found it wrong for their members to be scapegoated

    The left is far too paranoid and delusional to ever discipline its own.

  • Mo' $parky||

    Alright, enough of this nonsense. As nice as it was for Walker to retain his post and the feelings of many progressives to be smashed, you do realize he won with 53% of the vote right? I'd hardly call that a landslide, it's barely a majority. I just can't see a slight majority win as some kind of sweeping referendum on one side or the other.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    Also, brevity - much better than I said it, thanks!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Whether it means anything for the rest of us is unknown, but it's pretty significant for Wisconsin. His margin was bigger than when he first got elected, right? We're not talking a fascist state like Florida here; we're talking the enlightened People's State of Wisconsin.

  • John Thacker||

    It's the same level of victory as Obama over McCain, or GHWB over Dukakis.

  • Public Citizzen||

    Yes, but the Union Backed candidate only pulled about 44% of the vote [as of the time he conceded].

  • TELLMOFF||

    Mo'$parky, your understanding of statistics is excellent.

  • Azathoth!!||

    'It's no big deal' That's the new line.

    Walker won with a higher percentage than his initial victory. He did that on his record, with the MSM, the unions, and endless leftist screaming.

    And he did this in deep blue Wisconsin.

    That's right, it's no big deal.....

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    I don't take this message at all. As a monocle-wearing elitist, I don't trust the proles to get it right for any reason at all.

    I take this one as "getting lucky", for whatever reason - and don't necessarily expect to see similar results in other states.

    Especially Michigan, which is so fucking retarded re: unionism that its residents would kill the host to suck one more ounce of the taxpayers' proverbial blood. Seriously.

    Or something. It's nice to get a win for the less-evil guys, but I'm not declaring any sea-change in attitudes or inertia anywhere but WI.

    REMEMBER OHIO!!

  • TELLMOFF||

    I could not have said it any better myself.

  • John||

    And the headline of the NR article is priceless.

    Meet the Walker Obama Voter.

    Whistle past that graveyard.

  • WarrenT||

    It's 'rout' not route.

  • Registration At Last!||

    The message is simple: screw "their" unions (teachers) and give all the taxpayer-funded sops to "your" unions (cops).

  • Pro Libertate||

    Say, that's a good point. Walker should now have the clout to take out the remaining public unions.

  • Registration At Last!||

    Yeah, right. Place your bets, suckers.

    When Hell freezes over, melts, and freezes over again.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    The real message is even more simple: your team lost.

    And ultimately, for you guys, that's all that matters, right?

  • Registration At Last!||

    I think that's the "outcome" rather than the "message."

    The "message" is still what I said.

  • TELLMOFF||

    I recently turned a confrontation with a cop into a civilized argument. Cops actually believe that they have dangerous jobs. The tiny number of deaths compared to the large number of cops doesn't register with them or their families.

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