SEIU-Organized Rally in Baton Rouge Misses the Point on Wisconsin

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposed actions towards public sector unions have evoked national outrage among unions and Democratic leaders. Regrettably, they have also elicited a firestorm of misinformation.

Riding this ill-informed rhetoric, this Tuesday a collection of Louisiana unions plan to show support for Wisconsin unions with a protest at Baton Rouge City Hall. With members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the Building and Construction Trade Unions, and others, this coalition will protest what they view as the ‘scapegoating’ and vilifying of middle-class, working families to appease corporate and political interests.

Louis Reine, president of the Louisiana State Federation of Labor, says “[Governor] Walker must stop using the working families of this country as a scapegoat for the nation’s economic woes caused by the Wall Street greed that crashed our economy.” Meanwhile, Charles Selders, leader of the Local 21LA SEIU chapter, says “We need our elected leaders to create jobs, not wage attacks on middle-class and working families to score political points with big donors.”

Whether sincere or not, these statements convey an unfortunate confusion over the the situation in Wisconsin. As explained in the Heritage Foundation’s Morning Bell, spiraling public pension and benefit plans are severely compromising the stability of state and local governments across the country. Unfunded liabilities, estimated to be $574 billion in major American cities and $3.4 trillion among states, stand testament to overly generous benefits and pensions.

Contrary to what Governor Walker’s opponents have propagated, Wisconsin’s deficit was not created by recent tax breaks to businesses, but by these liabilities. And because of these growing liabilities, money which would otherwise go to core government services is being swallowed up by special interests.

In fact, Wisconsin’s public benefits are considerably higher than the national average. If Governor Walker’s plan succeeds, Wisconsin state workers will have to contribute 5.8 percent of their pension contributions and 12.6 percent of their health care premiums, double the current rates. Even after these adjustments, Wisconsin state employees would still pay less than the national average for public employees and far less than private sector workers.

Furthermore, Daniel Disalvo of City Journal rightly notes that Governor Walker is pursuing the will of the people and reducing the influence of unelected special interests. Not only do public-sector unions hamper the effectiveness of government and the efficiency of business, they impede the ability of elected leaders to enact sound reforms.

The locus of union delegates and representatives descending in both Wisconsin and Baton Rouge are not just wrong factually, but on principle as well. By implementing his plans, Governor Walker would greatly assist in alleviating the economic strain of pensions and benefits on Wisconsin. Additionally, he would preserve his elected government’s constitutional right to administering policy consistent with the wishes of the electorate.