As we continue to explore activists’ use of our platform, I wanted to highlight two causes on opposite sides of the Wisconsin budget conflict.
Just a little primer
Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker(R) has proposed a bill that would end collective bargaining agreements for all state workers except for Fire, Police and Inspectors. This effort is part of a larger effort to erase the state’s $3.6m budget deficit.
Included in the bill is the proposal to nearly double the workers’ contribution to their benefits plans to 12.6% of earnings as well as an additional 5.8% contribution to their pension plans (note that these amounts are less than half the national average). In exchange, Governor Walker has promised the affected workers no furloughs or layoffs. However, if the bill does not pass, Governor Walker has stated that the state will be forced to lay off approximately 5,500 state employees.
In addition to the financial terms of the bill (which the public employee unions have agreed to) Governor Walker remains steadfast in his intention to end collective bargaining for state employees. This debate goes much deeper than the budget deficit – after all, the unions have agreed to meet the financial demands in the bill – and is more about union vs non-union labor.
Not activists – just regular working folks
Causes users Josh Beck and Matthew Haugen sit on opposite sides of this debate, and while neither consider themselves to be activists, they’ve both created large communities on Causes.com in support of their arguments.
Both Beck and Haugen chose Causes because they wanted the ability to share information, news, and personal stories with large numbers of people. They’ve been very active on the platform, sending out regular bulletins and recruiting people to join their causes–key components in building an active community on the Causes.com platform.
Beck and Haugen are both 30 years old – Beck is a high school English teacher and Haugen works in manufacturing.
Admittedly, Beck’s been more active as a cause administrator than Haugen, which does help grow a community. He and other members are sending out several bulletins a day; members of the cause then have the opportunity to share, comment on or otherwise promote the bulletins to their network of friends on Facebook. Active participation in a cause sends a signal to your Facebook network that there’s something going on that might be worth their attention. The viral loop continues to expand as people join and participate in the cause and that, in turn, signals interest to their network.
Matthew Haugen: “Support Scott Walker’s Bill”:
“The people elected in November are only following through on campaign promises”
Haugen describes himself as an “everyday 30 year old, blue collared worker” who, concerned about employment in the state, simply wants public employees to pay their fair share. As a private sector worker, he funds his own retirement and pays about “3 times as much” for his healthcare than public sector workers.
“Everyone has the right to express the way they feel, I respect that. I also have a great deal of respect for those that dedicate their life to public service. I feel the protesters should have gone about things differently. For example, they could have come out to protest after work and on the weekend. That way they could have fulfilled their duties at work as well as being heard. The teachers weren’t making a lot of friends when parents had to take time off from work or find childcare on short notice. The teacher sick out was an illegal strike and they should face consequences for their actions. Also the doctors handing out “sick notes” should be ashamed of themselves.”
When it comes to protecting workers’ rights, Haugen sees OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency within the Labor Department established in 1971) as being the right organization to protect workers’ rights, while contending that unions protect workers’ privileges. In his eyes, unions have been made outdated with OSHA standards in place as the primary aim of OSHA is to protect almost the entire work force from job-related death, injury and illness. What OSHA doesn’t protect are workplace conditions, benefits, policies, complaint procedures and the hiring, firing and promotion of workers, among other things. Labor unions, when a workplace has been unionized, handle these negotiations for their members.
Josh Beck, “Vote No on Walker’s Budget Bill”:
“Collective bargaining in the education world has positive impacts on students”
Public education teachers use collective bargaining for more than just pay and benefits. Collective bargaining can be used for everything from limiting class size, the use of technology in the classroom, to how much prep time teachers receive to how much professional development they are offered and more. According to Beck, professional development helps teachers more effectively educate and reach struggling learners and challenge advanced students. The loss of collective bargaining will result in classroom sizes reaching 40 or more students per teacher in his district. He asks, “How can one person be expected to meet the diverse needs of 40 students per class and 130+ students per day?” Beck worries that he won’t be able to differentiate instruction for students who have diverse needs and, “differentiated classrooms have a high rate of success on all assessment methods.”
When asked about what we can do to ensure our schools and education systems are keeping pace with the rest of the world, Haugen contends that educational policy should not be legislated with the teachers’ primary interest in mind. “The potential to get fired if you don’t do a good job (like any other successful business in the United States) is what spurs competition among faculty, ultimately resulting in teachers expending as much effort as possible to create and execute a successful lesson plan,” states Haugen.
On the other hand, Beck is deeply concerned about what the loss of collective bargaining will mean both for his own job, and the effect he believes that loss will have on the quality of public school education in Wisconsin.
“To help ensure our schools can be competitive, we need to change how we fund schools. We need to change our funding system so that it is more fair and equitable. It’s not right that the largest school district in the state can only afford to spend $10-15,000 less per student than some of its neighboring districts. We’ll only be able to get as far as our weakest members of society are able to go, and the unfair funding system in WI hurts the poorest areas of the state. We also need to truly invest in schools. If we shifted money from the prison system and shifted it into reading and education programs, we’d see less people end up in prisons. Research shows that the average reading level of an inmate in America is between 3rd and 4th grade, yet most things in our society is written at a 6th to 7th grade reading level.”
Given the opportunity to talk with someone from the other side, what would you say?
Haugen says, “I basically want to show people what many private sector workers deal with every day. I pay about 3 times what many public workers do for my healthcare and I fund my own retirement. I have paid a lot more for my healthcare at previous employers, but now I work for an employer that respects quality workers and rewards us with a good healthcare plan.”
Beck says, “…to truly educate them about what’s all included in the bill. It is so much more than just public employee’s pay and benefits. It includes things like Medicaid oversight, BadgerCare funding, more centralized power for the governor and his office, less oversight of those new executive powers by the legislature, loss of federal funds for transit, loss of collective bargaining rights, etc. It’s so much more than money.”
The other day, I heard someone suggest that it’s not possible to change someone’s mind or behavior based on passionate pleas alone – that in order to affect change, one must have some sort of intimate connection with an individual or direct experience with the issue at hand. Protests aren’t going to convince one side or the other to step across the line, but they do give a voice to those who feel the need to be heard. The anti-Walker protesters have been loudest and largest in number, yet those who voted for Walker have, perhaps, already said what they had to say when given the opportunity at the polls. Right now, the issues in Wisconsin are divisive, the outcomes will be historic — and both sides have passionate beliefs around them. All we know is that until the state’s democratic lawmakers return to the legislature, this bill will remain on hold. While it’s possible that Governor Walker will make some concessions and propose a changed bill, at this point we’ll likely see an end to Wisconsin’s 52 year old law protecting public employees’ rights to collective bargaining.