Public employees in Wisconsin have been on edge ever since Governor Scott Walker presented his budget repair bill last week. The bill eliminates almost all collective bargaining rights for most state employees and dramatically increases required contributions to healthcare and pension plans. For employees of the University of Wisconsin System, this results in anywhere from an 8-15% decrease in take home pay, effective almost immediately.
The legislature held a public hearing on the bill on Monday, and it lasted more than 26 hours. Students and public employees have been protesting in and around the capitol in Madison since Monday, some staying overnight. The crowd of protestors today is estimated at 25,000. Madison public schools have been closed for two days because of a teacher sick-out. The most recent development was this afternoon’s protest from democratic senators: they left the state instead of attending the hearing to vote on the bill. Without at least one of the senators, quorum can’t be reached and a vote can’t be held. Students on most UW campuses staged protests and walkouts today in support of teachers and staff members.
This bill may have national implications. Right now, it looks like Ohio is next in line to attempt to deny collective bargaining rights for public employees. According to an NPR story, “It’s [healthcare & pensions] also a place that governors in other states are looking to find savings as they face crushing budget deficits.”
In full disclosure, I’m a UW System employee, and this bill will decrease my monthly take home pay by 12.4%. This is a crushing blow, as raises have already been rescinded from university employees for the last two years and are unlikely to occur over the next four, and for two years we’ve had mandatory furloughs, which amount to a 3.25% pay cut. I recently took a new position that represented a promotion. At the time, my new boss lamented that I would not be receiving much of a pay raise, and she was not authorized to offer me any more money. If this bill is approved, the minimal raise I received to become a department director and member of the campus administrative leadership team will return my net income to almost exactly what I was making at my entry-level job.
UW System employees are fed up. We are not eligible for merit raises, and we’re paid less than comparable employees in the public sector. Our benefits are what made it possible for us to continue working in the public sector, and now those are being augmented. This is just a budget repair bill. The real shock will come next week when Governor Walker unveils his budget for 2011-2013, which reportedly has plans to break up the UW System, and will no doubt include even more cuts.
This bill will have a lasting impact. The average starting salary for a faculty member with a PhD at my institution ($43,000) is significantly below peer institutions. In fact, if the bill passes we know we will have staff and faculty whose lowered incomes will mean their children could qualify for free school lunches and/or for Badger Care. The bill may impact our ability to attract and retain quality candidates for all campus positions. We need to recruit from all over the country and have to be able to compete nationally as well as regionally. The new measures would make us less competitive in recruiting and retaining talented employees.
It is my hope that the rest of the country will take notice of what’s happening in Wisconsin, particularly how it affects educators from kindergarten to college. Below I’ve provided links to what I believe is factual information. There are many opinion pieces available online, but I believe the facts speak for themselves. Educators deserve to receive a fair wage for their work, and the balancing of state budgets should not rest on the backs of public employees.
- Summary of the budget repair bill
- UW Colleges chancellor Ray Cross’ letter to the legislature
- Impact of budget repair bill on UW System employee benefits
- The economic impact of cutting public sector wages and benefits
This post was written on my own time, using my own computer and internet access. It expresses my opinion as a private citizen of Wisconsin. In no way am I representing the views of my institution or the UW System