Wisconsin lawmakers target state workers' union

An airline worker's sign reads 'Greed stole my pension'


STEVE CHIOTAKIS: They're looking for Democrats in Madison today. The Republican governor and GOP lawmakers need just one Democrat to allow for a quorum in the statehouse. That vote would let a bill pass in the legislature weakening the state workers' union. How does it affect you and me?

Jill Schlesinger is editor-at-large for CBS/MoneyWatch. She's with us live from New York. Good morning Jill.


CHIOTAKIS: Why is the governor in Wisconsin proposing this change?

SCHLESINGER: Well, you know unlike the federal government, by law states can't operate with a deficit. Think of the situation as if its a family that's facing financial problems but can't use a credit card as a safety net. States have to make deep cuts in spending -- everything from pensions to programs are on the table.

CHIOTAKIS: Is this, Jill just about Wisconsin though, or is this going to spread do you think to other states?

SCHLESINGER: I think this is going to spread. There are similar battles being waged, from big states like New York and California and Illinois, down to the little ones like Rhode Island. States, cities and municipalities are simply getting crushed by the unrealistic promises made during the boom times.

CHIOTAKIS: And they're finding anything that they can to do this -- to get these budgets in balance right?

SCHLESINGER: Absolutely. And if we go back to our family analogy, if you made a promise of a donation when things were going good, but then you lost your job, you'd have to renege on that promise.

CHIOTAKIS: Jill Schlesinger from CBS/MoneyWatch. Thank you.


About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.
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I was appalled at your ill-informed and slanted reporting on the Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker's manipulation of the budget in order to strip public employees, including teachers, of Union representation. A few points you missed:

* There was no budget shortfall prior to Walker creating one. From an article in TalkingPointsMemo (http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/02/wisconsin-gov-walker-ginned-u...) - "...this broadside comes less than a month after the state's fiscal bureau -- the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office -- concluded that Wisconsin isn't even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.

"Walker was not forced into a budget repair bill by circumstances beyond he control," says Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin Future -- a public interest think tank. "He wanted a budget repair bill and forced it by pushing through tax cuts... so he could rush through these other changes."

"The state of Wisconsin has not reached the point at which austerity measures are needed," Norman adds.

You can read the fiscal bureaus report here (PDF). It holds that "more than half" of the new shortfall comes from three of Walker's initiatives:

$25 million for an economic development fund for job creation, which still holds $73 million because of anemic job growth.

$48 million for private health savings accounts -- a perennial Republican favorite.

$67 million for a tax incentive plan that benefits employers, but at levels too low to spur hiring."

* Stripping bargaining rights won't do anything to reduce deficits, but will allow Walker to slash benefits. Keep in mind that this wasn't necessary, as the Wisconsin Fiscal Bureau makes clear.

Please do some research before whipping out a quick Republican talking points hit piece worthy of Fox "News."

Wayne Smith

Having reviewed the other comments on this story, I find they pretty well address its vapid lack of depth. So, I will contain myself to the utterly false analogy made by Jill Schlesinger. This is not a case of promises made in better times that now one has to renege on. To stay with the family analogy, this is a case of a "father" having told his "wife" that he has had his pay cut time and time again to the point that she'll now have to find cheaper ways to feed and cloth the kids, only to find he's keeping a mistress on the side. A "carve out" if you will. The conservative movement has been all about tax cuts, cutting the governmental family income, in order to "starve the beast," all the while lavishing gifts on their corporate trollop. One would expect a business reporter and a pro-marketplace show to have a blind spot to certain realities, but that doesn't mean others can't be incensed by it.

Ever since the Tomlinson assault on public broadcasting there has been a disturbing trend in PBS, NPR and the rest to pander to the right in hopes of blunting their attacks. My own NPR station put Marketplace Morning Report on in place of part of All Things Considered, I feel, to that end. I have some grudging respect for some of your work. This piece is not part of that. I hope your efforts win you some conservative converts to make up for the funding donations these changes drive away.

Oh, I guess it didn't work. They still hate your guts. The House of Representatives just voted to cut all funding to public broadcasting. Well, look on the bright side, maybe you will be lucky enough to have such "fair and balanced" reports covering your plight.

Re: Previous comment, I am referring to:

"Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending"

It would be accurate and honest for Walker to say, I am increasing spending here and offsetting it here. Rather than claiming the budget is off by said amount without acknowledging his contribution to said offset.

Additionally, to consider private business a better investment - not only in Wisconsin, wouldn't citizens be better served by agreements which include commitments from corporations to the state rather than just incentives without responsibility. If this goes through, and the economy goes sour, businesses will most likely be able to pull up stakes and move - no (or few consequences). Meanwhile collective bargaining will be gone for good as well as the salary cuts and teachers that went with them. How then will Wisconsin attract "quality" teachers?

This story is certainly about more than just balancing a budget. But, along those lines, it sounds very much comparable to, given the facts, the child who kills his parents and then pleads mercy from the court as an orphan
(and while you'r at it - throw in "collective bargaining" too).

Hi Steve,

Why do you not talk to some one from the actual battle ground Madison Wisconsin, and have both points of view presented. That would be more substantive and informative.


I was very unhappy with Marketplace's coverage of the Wisconsin labor demonstrations in this morning's report. Schlesinger and Marketplace blew the story.

The report characterizes the issue simply as a budget dispute, and made it seem that unions were protesting only cuts to benefits. There is much more to this; the Governor has launched an unprecedented and wholesale attack on collective bargaining rights under the cover of the budget issues, and has even threatened to call out the National Guard on the protesters. Marketplace's report made a major campaign to turn back the clock on union rights look like nohting more than a pay dispute.

As a sustaining member of WNYC, I expect much more from Marketplace, NPR and APR.

For better informed coverage, see:


This issue is strictly about busting unions. If Governer Walker and the state legislators priority was balancing the budget they would be talking about making the tough choice to raise taxes as well.

I was really dismayed on the coverage and factual errors in this story, which framed the entire issue in terms of Wisconsin's budget deficit, comparing it to other states, and as the governor trying to fix the state's budget crisis. I am a fan of the show but there was a pathetic lack of research on this story. First, the state would have had a surplus until the governor and Republican allies recently passed some questionable spending bills. Second, it is not about reducing benefits for public workers - if that were the case they would be at the bargaining table. What is going on is an attempt to eliminate collective bargaining. Also, they are forcing the bill through without the usual notice and debated that takes place on important legislation, and trying to do it before the full implications can be known. For instance, there will be loss of federal monies to public transportation because the funds are tied to unionization, just to name one. This is at its core an effort to implement the Republican's anti-union stance by eliminating collective bargaining. This is not about the workers trying to force more money from the state. They negotiated what they have and recognize they will have to accept cuts. I hope future coverage of this issue is more complete and well researched.

Once again, a false representation of why pensions are in trouble rears its ugly head. Jilly Schlesinger claims pension funds are in trouble because of "unrealistic promises made during boom times." What she fails to mention is that over the past 3 decades, State Legislatures across the country have routinely passed tax cuts and balanced budgets by reducing pension fund contributions and making up for it by upping the stock allocation of the pension fund. This virtually guarantees that when the stock market tanks, the pension fund tanks right along with it. The pension fund problem was caused not by workers bargaining for unrealistic benefits, but by politicians purposefully overexposing the pensions to too much stock market risk so they didn't have to make more politically difficult decisions to balance state budgets.

Ms. Schlesinger's comments miss the essential point about what is happening in Wisconsin. Yes, many other states share Wisconsin's financial woes, and yes, most states require a balanced budget.

The Governor is using this crisis to alter the fundamental relationship between workers and their employers in Wisconsin. This doesn't address the budget issue; it is an attempt to change the playing field. If the Governor were solely interested in the budget crisis, he could have called in the unions to reopen negotiations and participate in the painful process of reducing spending, or raising additional revenues, to balance the budget.

Schlesinger is right to say that "states have to make deep cuts in spending..." That is no reason to deny workers' hard-won rights to participate in collective bargaining.

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