We learned rather a lot yesterday about the state of play. First, Gov. Scott Walker released a series of e-mails that show that, while he isn't quite caving, he's certainly got some loose dirt cascading:
The changes discussed would be made not in the budget-repair bill itself but in later legislation, Werwie said. In the latest offer Walker aides e-mailed to Jauch on Sunday evening:Of these items, the only one that really matters is certification. The actual dollars and cents issues are always negotiable, no matter how much the Democrats whine about them. From the start, there only three issues that matter:
• Public employee union bargaining over wages would no longer be limited to the rate of inflation.
• Unions would be allowed to bargain over certain economic issues, including mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay and classroom size. On this set of issues, both labor and management would have to agree to discuss them for bargaining to happen.
• Unions could bargain over workplace safety, but that would be limited to workers' physical health and safety. It would not allow bargaining over hours, overtime, sick
leave or family leave, work schedules or vacation.
• Unions would have to vote every three years to remain active, with the first of those votes coming within one year of the bill becoming law. The current version of the bill would require unions to vote to recertify every year - starting this April - and require them to get at least 51% of workers' votes.
• Employees of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority would not lose all union bargaining rights.
• The Legislature's budget committee would have to approve changes to state health programs for the poor sought by the Walker administration. The budget-repair bill gives Walker broad powers to reshape those Medicaid health programs, which cover more than 1 million state residents.
- The ability to negotiate over pensions;
- Annual certification; and
- The one that really matters -- mandatory collection of union dues.
The last one is the key to everything that is happening here. The unions don't care so much about the money, which is why they caved almost immediately on the pension contribution piece. They assume that they can, in the end, outlast Walker and any reform movement, and that at some point people will forget and vote a Democrat back into office, who would immediately paper over any financial concessions.
No, the thing that matters is the money machine that compulsory union dues provides to the unions. If the unions have to collect their own money, they lose in two ways: first, they face a much larger operational cost, because thugs don't work cheap; and second, if they have to go get the money, the workers will understand how much money they are actually paying and some might demand a little more accountability. Can't have that!
Walker knows all this, of course, which is why these things were in the bill in the first place. The Democrats need the union money and so they have a vested interest in colluding with the unions. As we've said before, making the unions play by the same rules as everyone else would cripple the unions and undermine the symbiotic relationship between unions and their political protectors. Can't have that, either!
But the real reason Democrats win in standoffs like this is simple: Republicans aren't willing to play hardball. If you doubt that, consider this tidbit from the Journal Sentinel article:
Republicans have been pressuring Democrats to return to Wisconsin in several ways, but for the second time Monday they stepped back from fining Democrats for missing a session day.
Republicans last week passed a resolution saying senators could be fined $100 for missing sessions if they had missed two sessions without a valid excuse. But they canceled their Friday session - sparing Democrats fines on that day - and on Tuesday decided not to vote on the fines.
Republicans have also threatened to withhold paychecks from Democrats for missing sessions, but on Friday they sent out their checks. Fitzgerald said in a statement they were sent because negotiations with Democrats were going well at that time and because the ability to withhold the checks was in a legal "gray area."
Let me translate that for you. The evil Republicans are actually a bunch of swell guys who mean well. They are also wimps. Don't say you're going to withhold pay unless you mean it. And the business about negotiations going well is transparently false. If negotiations were going well, they'd be going on in Madison. It's also really sweet of the Republicans to cancel sessions so their misunderstood tormentors don't get dinged. Maybe they can sit in the comfy chair, too.
If you want to win, you have to be prepared to do what it takes to win. The Republicans never are willing to do what it takes. The Democrats know this. And that's why this thing continues to drag on.