Opinion: Public employees need to pay more toward benefits
Even drunk hunters know you don’t go into the woods unless you’re wearing orange during deer hunting season, because it makes it easier to see you. So how hard can it be to find a bunch of Democrats wearing bright pumpkin colored shirts that scream they support worker’s rights, while they speed out of town in a Prius?
Not very, as it turns out. They are all apparently hiding in one hotel room in Rockford, Ill., where they’re not afraid to go onto MSNBC, but are afraid to do their job at the Capitol. Is that even legal to have that many people in a hotel room? What did they do? Get Bob Wirch to buy the room, then sneak everyone in the back door while he told the concierge, “Clearly, we’re going to need the room service menu for a few days.”
In case you don’t know what this is all about, let me catch you up to speed. Scott Walker got elected governor. He is a Republican. Democrats don’t like him, because he is a Republican. Anything he says is wrong, because he is a Republican … at least if you listen to the Democrats, who conveniently leave out the fact that the last Gubner — a Democrat — left a lot of debt holes that needed to be filled.
I could never figure out why Jim Doyle would say one day that there was a looming deficit of $300 million, then turn around a day later and give a million bucks to something or another. I tried doing something like that with my bank account once, and the ATM ate my debit card.
Needless to say, this is not a good time to go to the Prime Quarter steakhouse in Madison — well, actually maybe it is since most Democrats are vegans. Well, that’s just silly, you say. Sure, but no sillier than Democrats demonizing anyone who disagrees with them on the topic of Walker trying to balance the budget.
He wants state workers to pay 5.8 percent toward their pension, which is about the private sector national average. Right now, they hardly pay diddly squat. If you don’t know what a pension is, you’ll have to Google it, as most Americans don’t even get those, anymore. He also wants them to kick in 12 percent toward health insurance, about half the private sector national average. These changes will help the state save $30 million this fiscal year alone, and will help the state fulfill its Medicaid spending on needy families — something that costs about $170 million, which Doyle left unfunded.
He also wants to limit collective bargaining, which is what supposedly has most of these people at the Capitol all squirmy about.
On the surface, perhaps he should allow a bit more on the collective bargaining. I’ve been a part of two unions in my lifetime. The one at the Kenosha News represented us fairly and strongly, and stood up for us, without demanding anything unreasonable. They were even able to stave off a 5 percent reduction in pay that others got, and the union had to eventually take. I was part of another union as a 16-year-old that was crooked and skimmed money from a lot of people, and never represented us on anything.
I know a lot of teachers in the Kenosha Unified district, and they are Good People who care. I know a lot of union people in the district who also are Good People who care. They deserve to be represented as a group so good teachers aren’t wantonly fired, and so their needs are met — like reasonable classrooms and prep times. But — oh, there’s always a but, isn’t there? — that doesn’t mean their collective bargaining should be able to force feed the district a wildly more expensive healthcare plan that has cost Kenosha millions and millions and millions of dollars. For years, teachers could have gotten the same benefits from United Healthcare for $8 to $10 million less, except those costs would go to a for-profit company, unlike the WEAC Insurance which is non-profit and further enriches the union which administers it.
WEAC has agreed to hold down costs now after United raised prices, but in the long run, it has still cost more, and will continue to cost more because there is no competition for other quotes. Other companies won’t bother because they know teachers won’t take anything but WEAC. Why are they allowed to do that? Because of collective bargaining, I am told. I’ve never been in a job where I could force my employer to give me the one insurance I demanded, so I wished people explaining this to me would just speak more slowly.
Now, I realize these changes will cause a lot of belt-tightening, and I don’t like that. Ideally, I’d like to see them phased in, so good people aren’t hurt needlessly, but the Gubner isn’t asking state employees for anything that others haven’t had to deal with. And the same people screaming about this would scream even louder when their UW tuition goes up 10 to 20 percent, but you can’t have it both ways.
Teachers work hard, but teachers are not poor. With pay and benefits, the average Kenosha teacher makes about $79,000. It’s awfully hard to tell the rest of the world you are being treated unfairly when the rest of the world is made up with farmers trying to keep their land, and people earning $28,000 while paying out $5,000 in health insurance, plus paying property taxes that go to the school. Yes, teachers go to school and have earned the money. No one debates this, but we live in a world that can no longer sustain a virtually free pension and wildly expensive health care. This is not union busting. This is basic math.
And don’t even get me started on that CDO. OK, there you go, getting me started on that CDO. If the district loses that lawsuit, that’s another $38 million we have to come up with.
So forgive me for blowing up and randomly screaming nonsensical swear words, but when you fake sick to go protest, and leave my child’s education in jeopardy, you ain’t endearing me to your cause. When you tacitly encourage your students to walk out of a classroom to protest, without telling them the full story about healthcare costs, you are using them as pawns and puppets, and I have no respect for that. Would you tolerate your students faking sick to get out of the work you give them, or walking out in protest because they don’t like the school lunch?
School prayer isn’t allowed, but ethics is still allowed — and maybe some of these protesters should practice that a little more.
Then you can brush up on American Government. If you don’t like the Gubner, then vote a new guy in next time. But don’t encourage your people to run and hide when they don’t get their way.
Gary Kunich is a Kenosha resident. He was a reporter and columnist at the Kenosha News, where he covered the Kenosha Unified School District as his beat. Before that, he was in the Air Force for a heck of a long time.