Why He Did It: For good reason, the Capitol exploded when Gov. Walker struck at collective bargaining: The Rise of Teacher Unions



Christian Schneider, via a kind reader’s email

By now, the political lore is familiar: A major political party, cast aside by Wisconsin voters due to a lengthy recession, comes roaring back, winning a number of major state offices.
The 43-year-old new governor, carrying out a mandate he believes the voters have granted him, boldly begins restructuring the state’s tax system. His reform package contains a major change in the way state and local governments bargain with their employees, leading to charges that the governor is paying back his campaign contributors.
Only the year wasn’t 2011 — it was 1959, and Gov. Gaylord Nelson had just resurrected the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Certain of his path, Nelson embarked on an ambitious agenda that included introduction of a withholding tax, which brought hundreds of protesters to the Capitol. Nelson also signed the nation’s first public-sector collective bargaining law — the same law that 52 years later Gov. Scott Walker targeted for fundamental revision.
Two different governors, two different parties, and two different positions.
Ironically, their assertive gubernatorial actions may produce the same disruptive outcome. By empowering the unions, Nelson’s legislation led to public-sector strikes and work stoppages. By disempowering the unions, Walker’s actions might lead to public-sector strikes and work stoppages.
In Walker’s case, union members reluctantly agreed to his pension and health-care demands, but have fought desperately to preserve their leverage in negotiating contracts. That raises the basic question of the Madison showdown: Why is Scott Walker so afraid of collective bargaining?
The answer can be found in the rise of the state’s teachers unions.

Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman:

Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.”

  • barbs

    And, so…???
    This is basically lots about where we have been. That’s not very helpful (to me, at least) except if you want to complain about rises in teacher salaries and reduction in class size – for what purpose???
    There is alot of harping about teachers and teacher unions. I hear nothing about educational goals of WI to “stretch” the learning for our kids, weakness in administrative leadership, weak curriculum that is not “quickly” assessed and adjusted, etc.
    I agree with Jim’s sentiment, “In my layperson’s view, taking Zimman’s talk to heart, our public schools should dramatically shrink their primary goals and focus on only the most essential topics (student achievement?). In Madison’s case, get out of the curriculum creation business and embrace online learning opportunities for those students who can excel in that space while devoting staff to the kids who need them most. I would also like to see more opportunities for our students at MATC, the UW, Edgewood College and other nearby institutions. Bellevue (WA) College has a “running start” program for the local high school.”
    Currently, in addition to the entrenched bureaucracies, there is so much distrust and inflamed rhetoric. The Senate bills being offered in the Senate Education Committee do not help – SB 32 is poorly developed, not supported by data when offered to the committee, and no fiscal analysis of any consequence was done on it. Not a good situation for the near term addressing of education issues in WI.