Saturday, April 30, 2011

Madison, WI--Could It Happen Here?

The Tompkins County Democratic Committee Issues Committee sponsored a forum to discuss "Public Employees and the Budget Ax." It was a lively discussion, particularly in response to index-card questions from the audience. My one-time classmate, Kate Bronfenbrenner, now director of labor education research at Cornell, set the scene by indicating how Wisconsin was not about labor at all but rather about politics. Eliminating public employee unions means eliminating funding of Democratic campaigns. Governor Walker's campaign, of course, was partially funded by the Koch brothers, whose funding also supported the pro-Walker side of the battle with the unions. It's not a conspiracy theory if it's true, y'all!

When asked whether sexism played a part in today's union struggles, given that a majority of public employees are women, Kate replied "sexism and racism." Black women make up a large segment of those unions, and black women vote consistently Democratic. Faced with the fact that most private industries have long since given up on pension plans, Kate remarked on the "race to the bottom" and questioned whether we want a nation of retirees who can't support themselves or maintain their own homes.

ITA Union President Sue Mitler remarked that state pensions average $30-$35K, not a stunning amount. County Legislator Jim Dennis said that there's a rule that county pensions must make 8 percent a year or the county must make up the difference (which sounds like a bad idea in this day and age). Dryden Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner mentioned that Dryden nonunion folks get the same deal as union folks, sort of like how Paul gets the same deal as administrative folks at Newfield despite not being allowed in their union (so far).

On the whole, I found myself agreeing with everyone, even when they themselves disagreed, which shows what a difficult and contentious issue this is, or perhaps what a fuzzy thinker I am. Kudos to the Issues Committee for bringing it to a public forum.

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