Tim Sheehy on union rights:
“The overriding policy goal of the MMAC is to reduce state spending. We are open on how to achieve that. If the reduction of union rights is necessary to achieve that goal, the MMAC won’t stand in the way.”
Business leaders back Walker’s strategy
By John Schmid of the Journal Sentinel Feb. 19, 2011
Many of Wisconsin’s business leaders are lending their support to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to reduce state worker benefits, even if it means weakening bargaining rights for public trade unions in the process.
The issue triggered an emotional outpouring from members of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said MMAC President Tim Sheehy. In less than 48 hours on Thursday and Friday, over 700 of the 2,000 employers who belong to the MMAC had called or contacted state legislators with appeals to reduce state spending and stay the course, Sheehy said.
“They’re saying, ‘Do what you need to balance the budget,’ ” Sheehy said.
Walker wants state workers to pay 5.8% of their pension contributions and to double their share of health premiums to 12.6%, although those aren’t the main flash points of controversy. Instead, trade unions and teachers are staging protests in Madison mainly because Walker simultaneously wants to restrict collective bargaining to wages only, marginalizing union influence on a host of issues and grievances.
The Wisconsin State Employees Union, the largest state union, on Friday conceded that it’s willing to allow Walker’s concessions on benefits if the governor agrees to abandon his bid to repeal bargaining rights.
Asked if Walker was using union rights as a bargaining chip to win the deepest entitlement concessions possible, business leader Rich Meeusen didn’t sugarcoat his response:
“I truly hope it’s not a bargaining chip,” said Meeusen, chief executive of Badger Meter Inc., co-chairman of the Milwaukee Water Council trade group, and prominent critic of the state’s tax and regulatory framework.
Meeusen called the proposal to curb union rights “a reasonable step.”
“I hope and believe that he (Walker) is very serious about this,” Meeusen said of the move to strip bargaining rights. “This is necessary. For many years, the public unions in this state have won a lot of battles. Clearly, the private sector has had to take pretty draconian measures. The public sector so far has not. It’s time for them to share the pain.”
The state’s biggest pro-business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, called Walker’s proposals “modest.”
WMC spokesman Jim Pugh said the association stood by a statement released several days earlier, when the fracas began.
“These proposed changes will allow government at all levels to better manage costs, increase efficiency and ultimately improve the quality of government services,” the WMC statement said. “In the long run they will make government more affordable and provide long overdue relief to taxpayers. These are modest changes and are consistent with changes made at private businesses.”
At the MMAC, Sheehy refused to take any position on bargaining rights. The overriding policy goal of the MMAC is to reduce state spending, Sheehy said.
“We are open on how to achieve that,” Sheehy said. If the reduction of union rights is necessary to achieve that goal, the MMAC won’t stand in the way.
“This is not a private-sector push to break the union,” Sheehy said. “It’s a private-sector push to balance the budget.
Sheehy noted that MMAC members have spent the last three years negotiating similar concessions from their employees that Walker now is seeking from the public sector.
“They understand probably better than anyone because they have done it with their own employees – they have frozen pay, cut pensions, and asked for greater share of health care costs.”
Commenting on the effusive response from the business community, Sheehy said: “They are not doing it with glee.”