Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Scott Walker

In a Show of Union Solidarity – Pennsylvania Teachers Unions Joining Forces with AFL-CIO

We have watched the Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker and his battles with state employees over legislation to take away collective bargaining rights. Walker’s actions hit a cord across the country; public employees are drawing the battleground in Ohio, Florida, from coast to coast. Now we see it in Pennsylvania.

The proposed $1 billion budget cut to public education by Gov. Tom Corbett has driven three teachers unions in the Lehigh Valley area to organize. Because of school district budget deficits and state funding cuts, hundreds of teacher jobs are on the chopping block in the Lehigh Valley . . . the teacher unions are fighting back. In a show of solidarity, 3,500 teachers in the Allentown, Bethlehem Area and Easton Area school districts have voted to unite with union members from the Lehigh Valley Labor Council and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. The teachers are joining forces with their brothers and sisters in the manufacturing, building and service unions to fight Harrisburg. The AFL-CIO membership in Pennsylvania has 900,000 union workers. Together, the unions believe they need to take a stand for the working middle class family in Pennsylvania.

With organized labor getting behind the teachers, one could guess that means additional financial support to help fight Harrisburg. Union members believing that Corbett’s budget is an attempt to balance the budgets on the backs of the working class, these 1.1 million voices are saying ‘no’ to the Governor and his proposed budget cuts for public education.

Exactly what these ‘voices’ have in mind for Harrisburg is yet to be seen. And I wonder if the TESD teachers will decide on a similar path to the Lehigh Valley teachers as the school board works to balance the district budget and as the calendar moves closer to contract negotiations.

Public Revolt in Wisconsin . . . Can Pennsylvania be far behind?

Governor Tom Corbett is faced with some tough decisions when he presents his first budget on March 8. For the fiscal year starting July 1, Pennsylvania budget deficit is estimated at $4 – $5 billion! How will he reduce the budget shortfalls? Will public employees be safe from the chopping block?

Are their lessons for Harrisburg from Wisconsin? Cash-strapped states across the country watched the fireworks today in Madison, Wisconsin over Republican Governor Scott Walker’s proposed legislation to cut back on public employee costs and curb union power. The bill passed Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee and was set for a vote today. However, 16 state senators (which included 14 Democrat senators) didn’t show up for the vote. The vote on the legislation remains in limbo. At least 15 school districts closed school for a second day in a row as thousands gathered in the state capital to protest the proposed limiting of union bargaining rights. Claiming that the governor is balancing the budget on the taxpayers back, the workers are refusing to return to work if the bill passes.

Specifically, Wisconsin’s proposed legislation would:

  1. Eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public workers. The unions could still represent the workers but they would not be able to see pay increases above the Consumer Price Index, unless approved by a public referendum.
  2. Unions also could not force employees to pay dues and would have to hold annual votes to stay organized.
  3. The bill would permit local police, firefighters and state troopers to retain their union rights.
  4. Public workers would have to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage. That represents an average of 8 percent increase in state employees’ share of pension and health care costs. In exchange, public employees were promised no furloughs or layoffs.

Walker has threatened to lay off up to 10,000 state workers if the measure does not pass. The proposed legislation is expected to provide a savings of $30M by July 1 and $300M over the next 2 years.

Wisconsin’s budgetary pain is playing out across the country. Health care, pension contributions, collective bargaining rights . . . are all under the microscope in the Corbett’s cost-cutting budget that is coming in a couple of weeks. Will we see the events in Madison played out in Harrisburg? The Commonwealth is looking at a $4 – $5 billion deficit. Yes, billions!

With less than 60 days on the job, do you think that Corbett is prepared to take on Pennsylvania’s public workers?

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