Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating gives a polished review of “Unintimidated,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s book about the passage of Act 10. As Governor of Oklahoma, Keating proposed a state referendum on Right to Work, which passed in September, 2001. In his review, Keating concentrates on government employee monopoly bargaining as the root of the Wisconsin’s financial woes, and explains how monopoly bargaining brings about unsustainable expectations upon taxpayers and legislators. The review appears in the Washington Times.
Perhaps only a governor can appreciate what Mr. Walker wrought. I do. And it was stunning. In Oklahoma, when I proposed a right-to-work referendum, which ultimately passed by a vote of the people, the reaction from the labor movement was negative but contained.
My fight was a brushfire. Scott Walker’s was a conflagration. It is a story well told, and one that must be learned and be a part of every courageous governor’s DNA.
In January 2011, the newly inaugurated Republican governor faced a budget shortfall of $3.6 billion. He could either raise taxes or lay off 10,000 teachers, policemen and firefighters to close the gap. Or he could do something bold. Gov. Walker chose bold. Some might say recklessly bold. But it was amazing and gutsy — and essential to Wisconsin’s prosperity.
Mr. Walker went for the throat. The state’s costly inefficiencies were the result of union dominance of the collective-bargaining process. Public-employee unions and their allies elected pliable public officials who sat across from their benefactors to negotiate public-employee contracts. Taxpayers lost. High cost and unfairness won. Collective bargaining didn’t embrace merit hiring or the dismissal of incompetent employees.
It meant archaic work rules: Who would have lunch duty? Who went on field trips? The union contract was a multi-hundred-page monstrosity. The last hired would be the first fired, a process that resulted once in the dismissal of Milwaukee’s best new teacher of the year. Mr. Walker knew that to slay the beast, collective bargaining had to be abolished. That meant it had to be abolished across the board. It must be scrubbed for state, municipal and county employees. That meant teachers, and it meant bus drivers and corrections officers.
The process was so corrupted that Madison’s highest-paid public employee was not the mayor or the police chief or even the transit chief. It was a bus driver who had put the accelerator through the floor with extensive overtime pay. The governor agreed to exempt policemen and firefighters because it was feared that if they went on strike, public safety would be seriously jeopardized. Good call, but a can kicker for a slice of the public labor force that is often ossified and heavy on early retirements and excessive benefits.
Mr. Walker first insisted that each employee pay 5.8 percent of his salary for his pension and 12.6 percent of the cost of health care. Frequently, public employees paid nothing. This would make them more competitive with private-sector workers. Collective bargaining would be ended for everything except base wages. It would also ban compulsory union membership and the forced collection of union dues. The result was Act 10.
The reaction was volcanic. Wisconsin birthed public unionization in 1936, and it was the first state to permit public workers to bargain collectively. Labor and its leftist Democratic allies would not take this sitting down. Many of the governor’s friends were stunned that he was willing to embrace the nuclear option. Some were afraid of losing. Others were timid. Why challenge the status quo? Couldn’t we somehow just compromise?
Mr. Walker held firm. He announced his program to a temporarily stunned opposition. They were not stunned for long, though. Collective bargaining equaled union featherbedding. The teachers union health care cartel cost the state millions. If collective bargaining were abolished, the good times would end. It would have to be total war.
The governor would have lost the recall if his reforms had not worked. The fact that they had worked saved him. He won the recall by a larger percentage (7 points) than his original election. He became the first governor in U.S. history to beat a recall. He was no longer “Dead Man Walker.” There was more money for schools. The state pension system became fully funded. The deficit quickly turned into a $500 million surplus, and the state began to deposit money into its “rainy day” account.