During his Tuesday night “fireside chat” about Wisconsin’s budget woes and his plan to dramatically curb the influence of public-sector unions, Gov. Scott Walker aptly referred to public employees as the state’s “partners in economic development.”
“We need them to help us put 250,000 people to work in the private sector over the next four years,” Walker told a statewide audience.
It was an important point, and it suggests a path out of Wisconsin’s nationally watched showdown between Walker, the Republican-led Legislature and the public-employee unions. Simply put, could public employees become fuller “partners” in Wisconsin’s economic revival if they had more skin in the game?
That question should be asked as the budget-repair bill moves to the Senate, where majority Republicans and boycotting Democrats should aspire to find at least a toehold of common ground.
The dominant private-sector view about unionized public employees is that they’re disconnected from the reality of the state and national economy. When times are good, public employees generally do well. When times are bad, most public employees still do pretty well, even if private-sector workers are taking pay cuts, benefit reductions or layoffs.
That view of insulated public employees isn’t limited to employers and non-unionized private workers. It is sometimes shared by the 7% of private workers who still belong to unions. It’s not uncommon to hear from workers in the auto industry or the construction trades who wonder why their fortunes ebb and flow with the economy, yet public-sector employees seem largely immune.