As a local official years ago, I saw the negative impact of collective bargaining on our taxpayers and on our excellent employees. So, during my first year in office as governor of Wisconsin, we took the power away from the big-government special interests and put it firmly into the hands of the hard-working taxpayers. Our Act 10 reforms were both pro-taxpayer and pro-worker.
The taxpayers of Wisconsin saved billions of dollars because of these reforms. And the people duly elected by the taxpayers now run our schools, state and local governments — instead of the big-government union bosses.
Public employees benefit from our reforms as well. Instead of being forced to pay dues to an organization that they may not support, our public servants now have the freedom to choose for themselves.
Our reforms also allowed changes in work rules that are positive for excellent employees. Under the old union contract system, good employees were often punished.
In my book “Unintimidated,” I shared: “perhaps the most compelling example of how collective bargaining hurt schools and students was the story of a Milwaukee high school teacher named Megan Sampson.
In June of 2010, Ms. Sampson was named the outstanding first-year teacher by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English. A week later, she received another certificate — a layoff notice from the Milwaukee Public Schools system. My predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle, had cut aid to schools without giving them any tools to offset reductions in state aid — which meant they had no choice but to layoff teachers.
But why on earth would they get rid of a great new teacher like Ms. Sampson — especially in Milwaukee, which is one of the most troubled urban school districts in the nation? Well, under the collective bargaining rules, when there are layoffs the last teachers hired were the first to be fired. It didn’t matter that she was one of the best new teachers in the state. She did not have seniority, so he was out. Our reforms eliminated these absurd rules. Now schools can choose who to keep and who to retain based on merit, not seniority.
But the story got worse. The reason Ms. Sampson and the hundreds of other educators received layoff notices in the first place was that, under collective bargaining, the school district was required to offer teachers a “Cadillac” health care plan and cover 100 percent of the costs — and the teachers union would not allow the district to switch to a lower-cost health insurance plan and save the teachers’ jobs. Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that if the district switched plans, they could have saved about $48 million — enough to pay for about 480 educators.
“We could literally save hundreds of jobs with the stroke of a pen if teachers switched to the lower-cost health-care plan,” he said, adding “I’m not aware of any place in the nation that pays 100% of teachers’ health-care benefits and doesn’t require a contribution from those who choose to take a more expensive plan.”
For her part, Ms. Sampson said switching plans should be a no brainer. “Given the opportunity, of course I would switch to a different plan to save my job, or the jobs of 10 other teachers,” she told the paper.
We wanted to give Ms. Sampson and teachers across Wisconsin that opportunity with Act 10.
Her story underscored a critical point: Reforming collective bargaining was necessary not just to close our deficit and balance our budget; it was needed to restore fundamental fairness to the system.
Liberals like to invoke fairness but there was nothing fair about the old collective bargaining system. It wasn’t fair to the taxpayers who became accustomed to seeing their taxes go up and up each year. It wasn’t fair to local officials whose hands were tied by union contracts that kept them from doing the right thing for their community. It wasn’t fair for public servants who were forced to pay dues to unions they might not support. And it certainly wasn’t fair to the hard-working public employees who were penalized by rules that protected the weakest link instead of rewarding excellence.
Our reforms changed the broken collective bargaining system. Seniority and tenure are now gone in Wisconsin. Schools, state and local governments can staff based on merit and pay based on performance. That means they can put the best and the brightest in the classroom — people like Megan Sampson — as well as in other parts of government.
If we can do it in a blue state like Wisconsin, it can be done anywhere — including Washington, D.C. That will lead to government that is more effective, more efficient and more accountable to the public.
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @ScottWalker.
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