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Posted on Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 11:03 a.m.

Our Values: Big questions after Wisconsin's 'nuclear option'

By Wayne Baker

0311 ov Egypt supports Wisconsin workers.jpg

This sympathy protester supports Wisconsin workers all the way from Cairo, Egypt.

Courtesy of Muhammad Nusair

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing the controversial anti-union frenzy spreading across the country.

It’s a done deal, now, for Wisconsin’s public employees. Yesterday, the Wisconsin Assembly approved the measure to strip public unions of their collective bargaining rights. This was just one day after Wisconsin Senate Republicans unilaterally voted to approve the measure.

“In 30 minutes, 18 State Senators undid fifty years of civil rights in Wisconsin,” said Senate Democrat Mark Miller after his GOP colleagues exercised what some called the “nuclear option.”

Gov. Walker said he would sign the bill into law as soon as possible.

All along, Walker said the state’s budget deficit was the reason public unions had to go. We now know that the budget deficit was a manufactured crisis — a hoax like the Balloon Boy. (Click here to see yesterday’s post on the hoax.) So, if it wasn’t the budget crisis, what was it? To me, there are only three other options:

1. IDEOLOGY: Collective bargaining doesn’t fit the conservative ideology-reason enough to end it.
2. REALPOLITIK: This is all about power. Those who have it do what they want.
3. CAREERISM: Walker is now a national figure, no longer an obscure Wisconsin politician.

What do you think caused the Wisconsin action?

What’s next for Wisconsin’s public employees? With the unions all but defunct, look for deep pay cuts, bigger contributions to healthcare insurance and pensions. Schoolteachers may be stripped of tenure, and seniority will no longer be a consideration when it comes to hiring and firing.

Other states — including Ohio, Florida, and New Jersey — are also considering curbing their public unions. Some states really do have big budget deficits, so cost cutting could be a legitimate reason. I note, however, the Floridian legislators are not taking that route, instead arguing that union busting is necessary to improve the quality of education.

Do you think Wisconsin’s action will embolden others?
Or, will it re-energize the labor movement?

Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at



Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 7:19 p.m.

What is truly amusing about the Wisconsin/Walker debacle is Gov Walkers financiers and their use of public tax money. Much ado has been made about the connections to the Koch Bros, what is not common knowledge is that these two bros take hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the US taxpayer in the form of subsidies, ethanol being the chief giver. Another financier of Gov Walker is M&I Bank, which accepted 1.7 billion US taxpayer dollars from TARP. On one hand so many people exhibit knee jerk negative reactions to any public employee, but are completely ignorant (either willingly or otherwise) of where their money is actually going. for calender year 2011 Koch industries is scheduled to receive $1,000,000,000 in tax payer supported subsidies. That is good value!

Dog Guy

Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 3:51 p.m.

Finally, Baker uses "Our Values" correctly. Here he uses "our values" to refer to public tax money: likely by chance, but a welcome change from replacing "principles" and "morality". Not by chance is a rabid response to the taxpayer uprising by academic word-benders: they too are lifelong tax consumers.


Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.

What this power grab will do is divide our country even more when we should be working together. Our economic adversaries must be salivating at the huge divisions that have been created by celebrity entertainers, pundits and ideologues. If tax cuts for the top 5% and fewer unions were really effective at creating wealth and jobs we would not be where we are today. The evidence points to just the opposite, collection of wealth at the top, high unemployment, high rates of public support for more people and a non sustainable economic divide.


Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

The unions can bargain wages ONLY to the rate of inflation, not really bargaining then is it? And, interestingly, unions that backed Walker were excused from the new law. IF the budget was the priority why exclude police and fire from the new law? Wisconsin is in no immediate budget mess. It has a bad out look for the future, but seeing as the unions had agreed to every concession asked, they had done THEIR PART. What should have been next in any civil dialog was looking for who would be next in sacrifice. The author is spot on, this was about ideology and power, plain and simple. When adults negotiate and get what they want they don't then turn around and take the ball and go home, children do. This new law will create not a single new job in Wisconsin, not one. The great irony of all of this is that Walkers sponsors 1: created wealth initially by working for Stalin (look up Fed Kochs ties to Stalins oil industry),2: The Kochs take hundreds of millions in tax payer subsidies annually, and 3: M&I bank took 1.7 billion from tax payers. So Walkers allies decry Marxist unions and the use of "other peoples money" but took support form former Leninists, tax payer funded subsidies and TARP funds! Too rich for words really.

average joe

Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

Dr. Baker- I don't know why someone with your education can't be more accurate with your facts. You have continued to portray opinions as the actual truths. Such as- "With the unions all but defunct, look for deep pay cuts,..." The proposal that was passed removes collective bargaining for everything BUT wages. "We now know that the budget deficit was a manufactured crisis — a hoax like the Balloon Boy. " Really?? Where are the facts that support this? So I assume that if you are still in front of the classroom, your students would all get 100% in your class, since by your example there isn't a need to be factually correct, & there isn't any wrong answers, just opinions.