It's NOT political payback, it's about balancing Wisconsin's budget.
That's what Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch says in response to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka's assertions that Republican Gov. Scott Walker has an alternative agenda for eliminating the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
In a recent interview on Tech Ticker, Trumka boiled down the debate in Wisconsin to "political payback for [Walker's] big donors, the Koch Brothers and other corporate lobbyists that helped him get elected." (See: "The Far Right Wants to Destroy the Rights of Workers": AFL-CIO Chief on Midwest Showdown)
Kleefisch flatly rejects this notion. "What we are doing is balancing our budget. All of the pieces of this puzzle are fiscal to us," she tells Aaron and Dan in the accompanying video. "There are financial facts that we do not have any money in the state of Wisconsin." (See: "We're Broke!" If Dems Don't Return, Wisconsin Faces "Horrible Options," Lt. Gov. Says)
Enraged public sector unions have been protesting for weeks over what Trumka called Gov. Walker's "my way or no way" attitude towards closing a $3.6B budget gap. Wisconsin's unions are willing to work with Gov. Walker and have already made concessions to pay more for healthcare and pension benefits but they do not want to relinquish their right to collectively bargain.
Since unions in Wisconsin are willing to pay more for their benefits, the underlying question remains: How and why does Walker's demand to end an era of collective bargaining make any fiscal difference in balancing Wisconsin's budget?
It makes a big fiscal difference, says Kleefisch. "Collective bargaining is meant to go and ask for more. You don't gather together to bargain as a group to go and ask your employer to give you less; fewer benefits and less money."
Trumka and others, including Elizabeth Warren who is in charge of setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, say Gov. Walker's stand against unions' collective bargaining rights is hurting middle class America. The 14 State Senate Democrats who fled to Illinois to delay action on this measure agree.
At the same time, poll after poll — including the most recent by Wall Street Journal/NBC News — says roughly 60 percent of Americans strongly oppose stripping unions of collective bargaining rights.
Despite the popular consensus, Gov. Walker and Lt. Gov. Kleefisch are adamant that ending an era of collective bargaining is crucial to solving the state's "fiscal puzzle."
And so the impasse in Wisconsin continues.
- Richard Trumka