Commentary: Why We Must Stand With Workers

Wisconsin battle is just one of many nationwide over the chipping away of workers' rights.

Posted: 02/25/2011 10:02 AM EST

The eyes of the nation need to focus on Madison, Wisconsin, as hundreds of government workers, union members, students, and other supporters gather in protest to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s economic assault on government workers.

The assault comes in the guise of Scott’s proposed budget repair bill that aims to balance Wisconsin’s budget. This proposal includes requiring state workers to pay more toward their pension and limiting the majority of the workers’ right to collective bargaining (police and firemen are excluded). If enacted, these changes would effectively cripple the power of unions in Wisconsin and severely limit state workers’ ability to fight for better wages in the future.

Early Friday morning, Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly abruptly passed the measure that would strip collective bargaining rights from most public workers. Since the state Senate has yet to vote, the political standoff is far from over.

Although not quite as draconian as Wisconsin’s proposal, similar scenarios have taken place throughout the nation, as the governors of New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and Florida have all proposed similar budget measures aimed at their state workers’ pocketbooks. For example, New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, has outlined a series of deep cuts and changes to the state’s government workers’ pension fund that includes workers paying 30 percent of their health care premium, increasing the amount of their co-pay, and rolling back a 9 percent across-the-board pay increase from 2001. Add this to the modest wages many government workers receive and a sputtering economy and the effects could be devastating. 

According to the governors of these embattled states, these drastic measures are necessary in order to balance their respective budgets, save their state’s pension funds, and stave off massive government lay-offs. They bristle at the suggestion that the budget crunch is a convenient excuse to punish the states’ workers, who tend to make up a significant portion of the Democrats' constituency. Moreover, when the governor of a state engages in union-busting activity, what signal does that send to the private sector that traditionally have had no qualms about jettisoning the rights of the American worker?    

Remember, many of the people that make up the thousands of government workers from the above-mentioned states (especially in urban areas) are middle-class people of color. We’re talking health care workers, social workers, teachers, etc., many of whom are our friends and family. Also, a large percentage of the people these workers serve are people of color. Any cut in their wages and/or benefits would drastically affect their ability to serve the public. This is why we must stand on the side of the state workers. Not to do so, would be, in my opinion, uncivilized.


Image:  M.P, Wisconsin State Journal / AP Photo