Wednesday, March 2, 2011


My dual citizen barber asked me what my views are regarding the protests in the State of Wisconsin as he proceeded to cut my hair.

I told him that whatever I say or write about on the matter would be perceived as biased because my parents were public school teachers and that I belong to a clan that produced more than a hundred educators. Furthermore, while I am known more as a lawyer and business and association executive, I actually hold a Master of Arts Degree in Education and was in the lecture circuit for many years. Currently, I am a very strong advocate for Cyber or Online Education.

It should not however stop me from expressing my opinion and feelings on an important subject like this.

In order to reduce Wisconsin’s budget deficit, Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans would like to reduce the benefits of State workers, increase their contribution to the pension fund and most importantly, curtail the workers’ right to collectively bargain for sick leave, vacation, and the hours they work.  Exempted from this curtailment of rights and benefits are the local police, fire departments and the State Patrol. The snowplow drivers would be hit but the teachers who compose the majority are the main targets.

There shall be no increase of taxes.  So Walker’s businessmen friends and campaign contributors that include the Koch brothers would be spared. The budget deficit will just have to be reduced mostly on the back of the public school teachers. Furthermore, when prosperity in Wisconsin comes with economic recovery, the same public workers will not be able to collectively negotiate to bring back all or part of the benefits which were removed.

The government workers are protesting this move by Governor Walker. They claim that they are willing to accept a reduction of their benefits but expectedly, not to give up their right to collectively bargain for the aforementioned benefits.

Governor Walker insists that he has the people’s mandate to do it by obtaining 52% of the votes as against his Democratic opponent’s 46% in the last election. While it is true that he campaigned to reduce the deficit I find no record that he also campaigned to curtail the collective bargaining rights of government workers, especially the teachers. In fact, there are reports that had he campaigned against the right to collectively bargain, his 52% votes would have been reduced by about 11% mostly from the public sector. In short, he would not be Governor now.
According to TPM based on a poll conducted by PPP, 57% of respondents said public employees should have the right to collectively bargain compared to 37% who said they should not. In fact, 55% said the state’s union should have the same rights or more than they already enjoy.

On Walker’s job approval, PPP reports that 52% of voters now disapprove of his performance while 46% approve. In a recall vote, 48% of voters favor it while 48%  oppose. In a hypothetical do-over election against Democrat Tom Barret, the latter wins 52% to 45%.

It looks like the “mandate” argument of Governor Walker has lost some ground.

Reviewing my notes in International Law when I was pursuing my Master of Laws years ago, I see and get reminded that the right of the worker to join or form trade unions with others  and bargain collectively has been enshrined in several International Treaties, Covenants, Declarations and Trade Agreements, many of which were signed, authored and / or sponsored by the United States. Examples include Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Even our trade agreements with several countries incorporate such a fundamental right emanating from the freedom of association.

I have always considered teaching as a noble if not the noblest profession. Without teachers, there would be no doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals. Unfortunately they also produce politicians like Governor Walker. In many jurisdictions worldwide, teachers are heralded as heroes as they play a major role in helping the parental and state’s obligation to educate and prepare the children as citizens of the future. For most hours of the day and most days of the week, they are burdened with the responsibility as surrogate of both the state and the parents.

For many years, Wisconsin was a model for respecting public school teachers’ significant role in society building. The respect was shown in the way they were treated, rewarded and dignified. It was a state where their fundamental rights were recognized and that being a public school teacher could actually help them realize the American Dream.

Yet through no fault of theirs, the U.S. economy collapsed and with it came the financial crisis, the fall of the industrial sector, the credit collapse, the rise of the unemployment rate,  the exposure of the greed of the Wall Street banks and Fannie’s and Freddie’s mortgage bubble burst.

The unintended consequence is the bankrupting of the Wisconsin State government due to declining tax revenues. It was not caused by the fact that the teachers have the right to bargain collectively.

A budget deficit is reduced by either raising tax revenues, reduce spending or both. Walker’s refusal to raise taxes would leave the burden and sacrifice only to the state workers who are mostly teachers. Taxing Walker’s rich friends a little more would be helpful but he wants no part of it despite the fact that it would not hurt them at all.

The government workers said they are willing to sacrifice part of their benefits. Sacrifice is the teachers’ middle name. They go to school early waking up at 5:00 a.m. and they leave the school late. Many of them bring the school supplies bought from their own pockets. Parents and students bother them beyond school hours and yet they do not complain. Most, if not all, are highly educated and trained professionals and therefore, deserving of a decent salary.

But deprive them of their internationally recognized right to bargain collectively for better working conditions? Walker you might be but putting your foot down to trample on  workers’ rights in the process, is wrong then, wrong now and wrong tomorrow.

Finally my barber decided to express his own view: “Walker, either with small or big Koch, wants to screw the Wisconsin workers.”

Take that from my barber!

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