Sunday, February 20, 2011

Unions Protest State Budget Bill!


A Warning About Things to Come
Constitution Convention: Barack Obama's political arm, "Organizing for America," swelled the crowds by busing in protesters from Wisconsin and from other states
By Phyllis Schlafly
Friday, February 25, 2011
Have you seen the television pictures of the tens of thousands of demonstrators at the Wisconsin State Capitol who are protesting proposed budget cuts for state employees? If so, you’ve had an advance peek at the sort of demonstrations that will take place if state legislatures are foolish enough to pass resolutions asking Congress to call a national convention to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution
Barack Obama’s political arm, “Organizing for America,” swelled the crowds by busing in protesters from Wisconsin and from other states, too. A national convention to amend the U.S. Constitution would become the media event of the century, with 24/7 TV coverage, giving us every reason to anticipate that “Organizing for America” would flood the process of electing delegates and then demonstrate to hurl demands on their deliberations.
All of a sudden, as though someone gave the signal, resolutions are pending in several state legislatures to use the never-before-used power set forth in Article V to petition Congress to “call a Convention for proposing Amendments.” This campaign exploits the frustration of many Americans with Congress’s out-of-control spending, increase in the national debt (with much of it borrowed from China), and passage of laws, such as ObamaCare, that severely limit our freedoms.
Many state legislators are promising that a Convention would be limited to consideration of only one specific amendment. No way. Article V clearly specifies that a Convention is for the purpose of “proposing Amendments” (note the plural).
Furthermore, various state resolutions support different Amendments. Some specify that the one Amendment to be considered must be the Repeal Amendment (to allow states to repeal an act of Congress), others want the one Amendment to be Debt Limitation, others want a Balanced Budget Amendment, others want a change in the Electoral College, others want to abolish the 17th Amendment, and one proposal is for a list of ten Amendments.
When the protesters assemble, we can be sure that many special-interest groups will be pushing their own agendas. You can bet that a once-in-a-lifetime Convention will attract activists demanding union rights (like the Wisconsin demonstrators), gay rights, gun control, abortion rights, ERA, and D.C. Statehood.
Calling a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution would be a plunge into darkness because the only rules to govern it are those specified in Article V. It takes two-thirds (34) of the states to pull the trigger, Congress controls and issues the Call, and the Convention must consider Amendments (in the plural).
Anyone who has attended a national political convention knows very well that the guy with the gavel exercises ruthless power. I’ve attended 15 Republican National Conventions plus many other national, state and district political conventions, and I’ve seen every kind of high-handed tactic and rules broken with the bang of the gavel, including cutting off mikes, recognizing only pre-chosen delegates, expelling unwanted delegates, cheating on credentials and rules, fixing the voting machines, etc., etc.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a national hero for winning the case that persuaded a judge to declare ObamaCare unconstitutional, stated on the steps of the Capitol in Richmond on January 17: “What about a runaway convention? Yes, it is true that once you assemble a convention that states have called, they can do anything they want.”
That blows away the silly claims by advocates of a new Convention, such as the so-called Goldwater Institute in Arizona (which was never known by Barry Goldwater), that the state legislatures can “define the agenda of an Amendments Convention,” restricting it to a specific Amendment or a single subject.
The Goldwater Institute cites Article V language that no state can “be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate” to allegedly prove that an Amendments Convention cannot “rewrite the entire Constitution.” Au contraire. Saying that a Convention cannot do one thing actually means that the Convention can do everything else except that one thing.
Goldwater Institute spokesmen try to predict what procedures would be followed by an Amendments Convention, but in fact nobody knows what procedures would be used. Congress has defeated all bills that tried to establish rules, so we don’t know how the delegates would be chosen, whether they would be paid, how they would be apportioned among the states, whether they would have to have a super-majority to vote out a new Amendment, etc., etc.
Goldwater Institute spokesmen try to claim James Madison is on their side, but their history is as faulty as their arguments. Madison wrote: “Having witnessed the difficulties and dangers experienced by the first Convention, which assembled under every propitious circumstance, I should tremble for the result of a Second.”

Teachers debate returning to work after Wisconsin protests
By the CNN Wire Staff
February 20, 2011
(CNN) -- After six days of protests that packed the state capitol, Wisconsin's major teachers' union called on members to start returning to work Monday but keep fighting a proposed rollback of union protections for public employees.
"To educators whose contracts do not recognize Presidents' Day, we call on them to return to duty by day -- and find ways to be vocal and visible after their workday is done," Mary Bell, president of the nearly 100,000-member Wisconsin Education Association Council, told members in a statement issued Sunday afternoon. "To those whose contracts recognize Presidents' Day as a holiday, we call on them to return to Madison."
But other unions said they plan to continue demonstrations into Tuesday, and not all members of Bell's union had decided to follow her lead. Members of Madison's WEAC local, the MTI Teachers Union, have voted to remain at the capitol on Monday at least, its president, Mike Lipp, told CNN.
"I think every teacher in here wants to be back with their students, but we also understand that there are important points to be made," Madison high school teacher David Olson told CNN. "And so far, we've done a good job of using our collective action to force the issue and to make sure people understand why we're fighting. It's an important fight to continue."
Wisconsin's new Republican governor, Scott Walker, is pushing a state budget bill that would severely curtail
collective bargaining for public employees. Walker says the measures are needed to head off a $3.6 billion budget shortfall by 2013 that could result in thousands of layoffs.
But the issue has triggered widespread resistance from unions, even those that won't be affected by the plan, and the 14 Democrats in the state Senate have fled Wisconsin to stall a vote on the plan.
"It is not about specific negotiation points," Matthew Kearney, a member of the Teaching Assistants Association and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told CNN on Sunday. "It's about the existence of unions, the fact that this bill would make it impossible for public unions to exist in Wisconsin. That's what's it's designed to do, to destroy public unions."
The demonstrations caused schools districts to cancel classes in Milwaukee and Madison for much of last week as large numbers of teachers took the day off work to protest. Some teachers have been given doctors' notes to excuse their absences from physicians sympathetic to their cause, protesters told CNN.
And an estimated 55,000 people turned out for Saturday rallies at the capitol, mostly in opposition to Walker's plan. Several thousand more packed the building on Sunday, sending up a rousing cheer when a group of firefighters -- who, along with police, are exempt from Walker's proposed bill -- joined them in a show of support.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Walker denied complaints that he was trying to break up public employee unions. But he said that collective bargaining has hindered local governments' efforts to manage their finances "time and time again."
"The difference is, unlike those other states, I want to give those local governments the tools they need to balance the budget now and in the future," he said. "They can't do that with the current collective bargaining laws in the state."
Walker called on the fugitive Democrats to come back home, telling them, "If you want to participate in a democracy, you've got to be in the arena." But the senators said they'll stay away unless Walker agrees to negotiations over his proposal, arguing that teachers have already agreed to pay more toward health care and pensions.
"In return, they ask only that the provisions that deny their right to collectively bargain are removed," state Senator Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat, said Saturday.
CNN's Casey Wian and Chris Welch contributed to this report
Competing Wisconsin protests peaceful, draw thousands
By James Kelleher
Sat Feb 19, 2011
MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) – Supporters of legislation to reduce public employee union bargaining power and benefits in Wisconsin were far outnumbered by opponents on Saturday, as the two sides shouted competing slogans but did not clash.
Tens of thousands have demonstrated throughout the week against Republican Governor Scott Walker's proposed legislation, which supporters say is needed to bring spending under control and opponents contend would break the back of state worker unions.
Wisconsin is the flashpoint for a U.S. struggle over efforts to roll back pay, benefits and bargaining rights of government workers. If the majority Republicans prevail, other states could be emboldened to take on the powerful unions.
Both sides drew thousands to the state capital Madison on Saturday -- unofficial estimates put the total near 40,000 -- but opponents appeared to have several times as many as those backed by Tea Party groups, the first appearance by members of the conservative, limited-government movement this week.
The bill's opponents marched counter-clockwise around the state Capitol, encircling the legislation's supporters and chanting "kill the bill."
The supporters countered with "Recall them all," referring to Democratic state senators who fled to Illinois to deny Republicans the quorum needed to consider the proposal.
In addition to sharply curtailing union bargaining power, the Republican legislation would make state workers contribute more to health insurance and pensions.
Friendly Atmosphere
"I've been working in a factory for 26 years. We pay 15 percent for the cost of our healthcare. The state workers get Cadillac insurance and pensions. They have no God-given right to collective bargaining," said bill supporter Anthony Thelen, 46, who works in a nonunion factory outside of Milwaukee.
Although there had been fears of a fight, the atmosphere was generally peaceful and friendly, with organizers on both sides urging followers to be courteous and police needing to do little but stand by.
Margaret Derr, a high school math teacher and union member, said she didn't dislike the governor personally.
"I'm just opposed to the bill. I have no problem contributing more to my healthcare and pension. I understand about the deficit, but some of the proposals are just about union busting."
Walker estimates the state budget deficit for the rest of this fiscal year at $137 million and for the next two fiscal years under its biannual budget at $3.3 billion.
He wants state workers to increase contributions to pensions to 5.8 percent of salary and double contributions to health insurance premiums to 12.6 percent.
The proposal would limit collective bargaining to the issue of wages and cap increases to the rate of inflation, with a voter referendum needed for bigger increases.
It also would end government collection of union dues, allow workers to opt out of unions, and require unions to hold recertification votes every year. Walker said the alternative is to lay off more than 10,000 public employees.
Public sector workers are the backbone of the union movement in the United States.
Only 12 percent of U.S. workers were represented by unions in 2010, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says. While just 7 percent of private sector workers belonged to unions last year, 36 percent of public workers were organized, the bureau said.
(Editing by Jerry Norton and Philip Barbara)

Thousands of protesters surround Wis. Capitol
Budget fight wages on as nearly 70,000 show up for peaceful rally in Madison
19 Feb. 2011
MADISON, Wis. — An estimated 70,000 protesters converged on the Wisconsin Capitol on Saturday, with supporters of Republican efforts to scrap the union rights of state workers facing off against pro-union activists.
Supporters of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to ease Wisconsin's budget woes by reducing the power of public employee unions gathered on the east side of the Capitol, where they were surrounded by a much larger group of pro-labor demonstrators.
There were no clashes.
Pro-union activists and their supporters since Tuesday have filled the Capitol with chanting, drumbeats and anti-Walker slogans.
Walker has proposed legislation he says is needed to bring government spending under control. It does so, in part, by requiring government workers to contribute more to their health care and pension costs while largely eliminating their collective bargaining rights.
The dispute is being watched carefully because if Walker prevails in Wisconsin, other conservative Republican governors may try to go after powerful public employee unions as part of their budget-cutting policies.
Saturday's protest was marked by opposing chants: "Pass the bill! Pass the bill!" and "Kill the bill! Kill the bill!"
"Go home!" union supporters yelled at Scott Lemke, a 46-year-old machine parts salesman from Cedarburg who wore a hard hat and carried a sign that read "If you don't like it, quit" on one side, and "If you don't like that, try you're fired" on the other.
The Wisconsin governor — elected in November's Republican wave that also gave control of the state Assembly and Senate to Republicans — says that concessions from public employee unions are needed to deal with the state's projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall and to avoid layoffs of government workers.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald reaffirmed that Republicans have not been swayed by the pro-labor protesters.
"The bill is not negotiable," Fitzgerald said inside a heavily guarded Senate parlor at the Capitol. "The bill will pass as is."
Fitzgerald said Republicans have the votes needed to pass the so-called "budget repair" bill just as soon as 14 Senate Democrats who fled the state on Thursday and remain in hiding return to the Statehouse. Without them, there isn't the required quorum to vote on legislation.
Wisconsin: How we got here
The missing Democrats have threatened to stay away for weeks and remain more resolved than ever to stay away "as long as it takes" until Walker agrees to negotiate, Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said Saturday.
"I don't think he's really thought it through, to be honest," Erpenbach said.
Democrats offered again Saturday to agree to the parts of Walker's proposal that would double workers' health insurance contributions and require them to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary to their pensions, so long as workers retained their rights to negotiate with the state as a union.
Madison police estimated 60,000 or more people were outside the Capitol with up to 8,000 more inside.
Doctors from numerous hospitals set up a station near the Capitol to provide notes covering public employees' absences. Family physician Lou Sanner, 59, of Madison, said he had given out hundreds of notes. Many of the people he spoke with seemed to be suffering from stress, he said.
"What employers have a right to know is if the patient was assessed by a duly licensed physician about time off of work," Sanner said. "Employers don't have a right to know the nature of that conversation or the nature of that illness. So it's as valid as every other work note that I've written for the last 30 years."
What's at stake in Wisconsin
What bill would do
1) Eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public workers. So while unions still could represent those workers, they would not be able to seek pay increases above those pegged to the Consumer Price Index unless approved by a public referendum.
2) Unions also could not force employees to pay dues and would have to hold annual votes to stay organized.
3) Local police, firefighters and state troopers would retain their collective bargaining rights.
4) Public workers would have to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage. That represents an average of 8 percent increase in state employees' share of pension and health care costs.
In exchange, public employees were promised no furloughs or layoffs. Gov. Scott Walker has threatened to lay off up to 6,000 state workers if the measure does not pass.
Estimated savings
$30 million by July 1 and $300 million over the next two years to address a Republican-projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
The proposal marks a dramatic shift for Wisconsin, which in 1959 was the first to pass a comprehensive collective bargaining law for public employees and was the birthplace of the national union representing all non-federal public employees.
When voters last year elected Gov. Walker, an outspoken conservative, along with GOP majorities in both legislative chambers, it set the stage for a dramatic reversal of the state's labor history.
National significance
New Republican governors and legislatures in other states have proposed cutting back on public employee costs to reduce budget shortfalls, but Wisconsin's move appears to be the earliest and most extensive.
Source: Associated Press and Reuters