Sunday, June 14, 2015

Wisconsin events show why tenure, public employee unions are needed

Why do public employees need tenure, unions, and other protections? Take a look at these three stories from recent months in Wisconsin.

1. Look at how State Sen. Steven Nass reacted to a study on the (right-to) work-for-less legislation from March.
"Attached is yet another example of wasted resources at the UW-Madison/UW Extension to issue a trumped up report from a partisan academic against Right to Work," writes Nass, a Republican from Whitewater. "Hiding behind academic freedom to issue partisan, garbage research is what we have come to expect from some of the overworked and stressed faculty at UW-Madison."...

The report summarizes the common arguments for and against right-to-work legislation, acknowledging that there is "little agreement within the literature that has attempted to empirically document the impact of [right-to-work] laws."

Using income, poverty and unemployment data from states with and without the anti-union legislation and comparing them using a statistical test to identify significant differences, Deller found that "right-to-work states tend to have lower manufacturing wages and overall income levels, higher poverty rates and lower education levels."
So in right-wing world, actual numbers and comparisons are "partisan garbage" that should be ignored? With that attitude, you can see where a researchers and other faculty members could be pressured and threatened by people who might not take kindly to statements and findings than counteract their agenda, especially when those people are making appointments to the Board of Regents. This is exactly why tenure exists, to insulate researchers from those poitical pressures, and to allow them to independently find facts and conclusions.

2. We see a similar type of pressuring and muting of potential dissent with the state budget's planned cuts of positions at the Science Services section of the Department of Natural Resources. Let's just say that the Wisconsin GOP may not like what these people could have to say.
The budget says only that the positions no longer serve the DNR's core mission. Asked to expand on [Gov] Walker's rationale, the governor's spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said in an email that Walker is focused on streamlining state government and making it more efficient.

The Bureau of Science Services' biennial research plan released in 2013 called for extensive study on how climate change has affected the Great Lakes, Wisconsin's river ecosystems, and the state's forests, wildlife and fish. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, of the 96,200 hours the bureau worked in fiscal year 2013-'14, 2,800 hours were spent on climate change-related research.

The plan also called for research into what it termed "emerging" pollutants such as prescription drugs, hormones and industrial additives and agents. It also called for developing ways to predict and mitigate how sand, iron and sulfide mining affects air and water, plants and animals, and creating new monitoring strategies for newly permitted mines.

The bureau's fish and wildlife-forestry sections undertook 109 projects in the 2012-'13 and 2013-'14 fiscal years, according to the Fiscal Bureau. Thirteen involved pollution research. One involved providing research to the DNR's water division on recommendations for monitoring parameters in iron mining applications.
In other words, the Fitzwalkerstanis' reaction to findings that don't match what they want to hear is not to adjust policy to the facts and reality that may exist (aka "governance"), but to GET RID OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE SAYING THOSE THINGS and stick their heads in the sand. That's mature leadership, isn't it?

3. The same methodology of intimidation and abuse of power may have happened at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, as the Associated Press reported last week that crime lab manager Amy Lautenbach was fired based on reasons that seemed to crop up after she complained about the workplace environment and statements from her right-wing bosses under former Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
In a written response to the [bosses'] evaluation, Lautenbach said its contents were a surprise and accused the administration of moving the lab away from objective science.

Lautenbach told the AP her problems began when she complained to a supervisor about a comment Brian O'Keefe, administrator of the DOJ's Law Enforcement Services Bureau, which oversees DOJ's crime labs, made during an April 2014 meeting.

Lautenbach claimed O'Keefe said that DOJ should issue bumper stickers saying they shoot people who coexist, a play on a bumper sticker that says the world's religions should coexist. She mentioned the remark briefly in her response to her evaluation.

After she complained, she said her supervisors stopped communicating with her, making it impossible to relay information to her staff. She also said her superiors were upset with her because she had to leave work at 6 p.m. to pick up her son every day and ridiculed her suggestion to include a room for nursing mothers as part of the lab's $5 million renovation.
Now, if there was a union to speak up for Ms. Lautenbach, maybe the guys at the office wouldn't have been quick to blow her off, or find reasons to get rid of her. But in the post-Act 10 world, Lautenbach claimed that "the politicians [at DOJ] do the politicking. They don't care about the lab or doing the job."

Related to that, the political element at DOJ may be going a long way toward explaining why we continue to be denied a full and open investigation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), even while more headlines keep coming out about the millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded loans and incentives to Walker donors that are being written off. Because Brad Schimel is a partisan hack who doesn't want to have his party feel the damage from what might be found, any state DOJ action against WEDC has been stalled, despite actions that seem to be clear fraud in what these alleged "job-creating" projects are, as well as outright money-laundering of taxpayer dollars to businesses run by Walker donors. It is why a federal investigation is warranted, because those of us who have followed the WEDC disaster know that Schimel and his GOP-run Department of "Justice" cannot be trusted to do the right thing, precisely because there aren't independent investigators being allowed to examine this slush fund.

This is why there needs to be a backstop for public employees against partisan hacks, and it was an argument that always should have been made in debates over the working conditions for public employees. It shouldn't be just about pay, but it should be about serving the public , and reiterating that public employees and UW faculty don't just work for their political bosses, but for the people of Wisconsin.

I'll go back to what I said nearly 3 years ago, right after Gov Walker survived the attempt to recall him in 2012.
This is where people such as AFSCME's Marty Beil and WEAC's Mary Bell have failed in the last 18 months. Instead of turning the debate on public employees into an illlustration of why we need an independent public sector that values competence over ass-kissing and politics, they decided to concentrate on the issue of money and gaining power through politics. And sure, it's hard to get anything done in government without having politicians on your side, but Marty and Mary tried to do this through the insider game (remember their idiotic support of Kathleen Falk early on?) instead of continuing to educate the voters ON THE ISSUES....

...Look at the stories that have come out in the last few days regarding new school-board imposed handbooks for teachers in Madison-area districts, to the mass desertions in New Berlin the year after the new handbook took effect. What Act 10 and the daily rantings from hate radio have done is to devalue public service and is [dis]couraging well-qualified individuals from staying in (or considering) public sector jobs.

This devaluing of public service was something Tom Barrett effectively pointed out in his stump speeches, but the DPW and the unions failed to drive this point home during the recall campaign, leaving the Fitzwalkerstanis to be the ones allowed to define the issue, and portray teachers, road workers, fire fighters, and police officers as "takers" instead of the people who stabilize our communities and improve the quality of life for all of us.

And it plays right into the hands of GOP puppet-masters, who want public service to be just another extension of the elected hacks in the Legislature and the Governor's Office, and not to have accountability to anyone but the corrupt bosses who call the shots.
I'd like to say I'm gloating about being right about this, but I'm actually very sickened about it. And the threats to the independence of UW faculty and other public employees are more severe now than they were in Summer 2012.

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