Select Page

I am only trying to get an answer. If you read my previous post, I think the question was pretty clear: What does eliminating the negotiation process have to do with balancing the budget? Why can’t the government make the cuts that need to be made without eliminating a union’s ability to negotiate? Again, unions can’t negotiate for money that is not in the budget.

Anyway. I got a form letter response. In all fairness, I have posted it here below. And then, again, I have followed that up with another letter I wrote back to him asking him to please answer my question.

So here goes. First, his reply to me:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me in regards to the recently released Budget Repair Bill. Since this bill has come out there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation going around and I wanted to take a few minutes to explain several of the provisions in the Budget Repair Bill.

This budget repair bill is the direct result of reckless spending policies, raiding of segregated funds, and fiscal lapses perpetrated by the previous administration. One claim that is being widely circulated is that public employees will see a 17% decrease in their salary. This completely false, there will be no cuts in base salary pay due to the Budget Repair Bill. State employees will now be asked to contribute 5% of their salary to their retirement. This money is not money being taken away from state employees, but rather going towards their retirement. State employees are also being asked to contribute 12% of their insurance premiums. Currently state employees pay for 6% of their premiums. This increase is not 6% of your salary, but merely 6% of your insurance premium costs. The state government will continue to cover the remaining costs of health care premiums, approximately seven times the amount contributed by employees.

Additionally state employees will now have the option of paying union dues, they can if they still choose to but will not be required to. Nor will they be required to join the union in order to obtain a job with the state government. Combined with this will be the requirement for an annual certification vote, which will give employees the option to choose whether or not they want to be represented by a union. While tough decisions like these are not easy to make, it was necessary to make these cuts in order to preserve jobs. In many other states, the state government has avoided making these difficult decisions by simply firing their employees. I strongly believe that firing thousands of state employees is not an option during this economic crisis.

The important facts to remember is that no jobs were lost, no health care benefits were reduced and no pension benefits for retirees were affected. We are all facing tough economic times, and we have to do it together. There will be more difficult decisions and cuts that need to be made in the future. The both the upcoming budget and the budget repair bill will require government to tighten their belts; just like every Wisconsin family has already had to do.

If you have any questions about the budget repair bill, I would encourage you to contact me. You can either call my office in Madison at 608-267-2365 or you can email me at Rep.Severson@legis.wisconsin.gov

Sincerely,

Representative Erik Severson

28th Assembly District

Now, my reply and request for a real answer–again:

Representative Severson,

While I appreciate your form letter, you did not answer the question I asked you. It leads me to believe you didn’t read my letter. I don’t blame you. I’m sure you are very busy. Still, you did not answer my question, and so I will ask again.

Let me remind you that I ended my last letter to you, by stating that I am a teacher. As such, you have certain expectations of me. You are my representative. As such, I have certain expectations of you. I expect a response to my question. When a student has a specific question of me, I do not ignore the question. I answer it. Specifically. I do not gloss it over. I don’t sugar coat it. I don’t dance around it. I answer it.

Again, my question was:

“What does eliminating a union’s ability to negotiate have to do with balancing a budget?”

Why can’t you make your cuts to education and other state funding without eliminating a union’s ability to negotiate and help solve problems.

You’re support of this bill convinces me that you believe that collaborating with others in order to solve problems is not worth the effort, and that eliminating pools of educated, creative individuals in the problem solving process is a good thing. Your stance (and form letter response) makes me wonder if I really should be encouraging collaboration as a 21st century skill at all in my classroom if these skills are really not valued in the real world.

I apologize for being blunt. I hope you do not think me unprofessional, but perhaps I should begin telling my students to simply sit down and shut up, as it appears you are telling me–between the lines of your form letter.

So again, please explain to me how eliminating bargaining rights has anything to do with eliminating a budget deficit. Why can’t you cut spending for education, and transportation (and whatever else) without changing a law allowing unions to negotiate with the funds that are available?

Again here, I am not asking you why we need to make cuts. I’m not asking you NOT to cut education funding, or transportation funding, or funding to prisons, or cities, or natural resources, or whatever else you may need to cut in order to balance the budget. I understand that we are all in this together, and that I may need to make additional sacrifices. I am totally fine with that.

Do that. Make the cuts. Then let the current system work. The negotiation process is part of the democratic process. Right? The unions are not negotiating with you. They have no power to tell you what to cut or not cut, or on what to spend or not spend.

Do what needs to be done. That’s your job. I don’t envy you. It’s a tough job–with tough choices. Do it honestly, and I’ve got no problems.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you. Often times I disagree with my union and am angry that I am forced to be a member. Much of their propaganda is fear mongering. Many of the programs (their health insurance chief among them) are extremely wasteful. Still, to not allow a union to negotiate, and to virtually destroy a collective, collaborative process–to destroy an avenue for discourse and communication and creative problem solving–stand in complete contrast to who I am. In my mind it stands in complete contrast to democracy and what it means to be American.

Again. I am a teacher. I am responsible to meet the demands that the students and families in my district expect of me. I am a professional. I highly value integrity and honesty. You are my representative. I expect nothing less from you. I believe it is also your job to explain yourself. It is clear that you support this bill and do not support negotiation. Please explain why.

I have now asked you a specific question–twice. Please do not make me ask again.

Chris Wondra