Sunday, October 4, 2015

Destruction of civil service allows for destruction of public interest

With Tuesday's public hearing on the civil service eradication "reform" bill looming, and with Friday's passing of AFSCME president Marty Beil, let me take you back to something I wrote less than one month after the failure to remove Scott Walker in the recall election of 2012. In that post, I criticized Beil and then-WEAC president Mary Bell for falling into the GOP trap of making the debate on public sector unions one that revolved around money and power, instead of reiterating the fact that unionism is a necessary check on political corruption, which allows public workers to be servants of the people, and not partisan hacks.
...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 encouraging 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've hit on this before, with the Walker Administration's hiring of the Brian Deschanes, Val Casses and Tim Russells of the world, and [Isthmus's Marc] Eisen's article accurately points out how independent whistle-blowers at the DNR stopped high-level Walker appointees and corrupt legislators from the 262 area code [from] putting hundreds of homes near Oconomowoc from being at further risk due to negligence from GOP donators at Herr Environmental.
Eisen's June 2012 article also looked backward by 80 years to point a way forward for public sector unions after Walker was retained in the recall, and ironically, it was due to concerns that a Democrat would be the one to install hacks over civil servants.
[Albert] Schmedeman came into office in 1932 as the first Democratic governor in 38 years. He was hell-bent on firing state employees and hiring his friends. Fearful of the Democrats' plan to destroy civil service, the nascent state employees association began organizing. Their objectives included a forthright pledge "to extend and uphold the principle of merit and fitness in public employment." There was also the promise to advance the welfare of state employees.

But organizers took it a step further. They also pledged "to promote efficiency in public services" and to reduce to a minimum "overlapping and duplication of services." In other words, they focused not just on their own needs, but also on looking out for the taxpayers. They were outlining a mission - a cause - that reached beyond their own enrichment.
And now Gov Walker and the WisGOP legislators want to end that mission, and turn over state service to the politically connected and the subservient who won't ask questions or tell inconvenient truths to their superiors. And sadly, the revolving door of executives at WEDC and the numerous taxpayer-funded handouts at that slush fund to Walker cronies are clear examples of how things are getting worse in state government since 2012, as the Age of Fitzwalkerstan continues and the influence of Walkerism pervades more areas of state government.

Just today, we saw another example of this crooked WisGOP mentality, as the Wisconsin State Journal has a long report illustrating how Walker Administration officials and WisGOP legislators have decreased and/or buried analysis by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regarding the possible environmental harm of certain projects, and have frequently acceded to the wishes of big business donors and lobbyists in instituting DNR policy. Here's a passage that should chill anyone who gives a crap about the great natural beauty and resources that this state has to offer.
In July, DNR officials reorganized internal management and began a yearlong study that will result "in staffing and system changes over the next year as we assess our core priorities," said Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede.

Agency spokesman Jim Dick said the review of employee "core work functions" was unrelated to this summer's budget cuts, which raised questions about the DNR's direction when Walker said the 18 senior scientists - all funded by federal dollars and program revenue - were cut because they weren't needed for the department's "core mission." Lawmakers complained about "controversial" DNR research on wildlife, mining, and climate change...

Walker's DNR Secretary is Cathy Stepp, a former Republican state senator and critic of the agency. Pat Stevens, former environmental director for [Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce], was placed in charge of air and waste regulation. Water quality protection was added to his division in the reorganization.
Gee, you think that crew will tell their buddies at WMC that they can't pollute the countryside and have to improve the way they do business due to the public's needs? Riiiight. Having this bunch of hacks in charge also makes it less likely that red flags will be raised when a department is needlessly overspending in a certain area, especially if they stand to profit from the wasteful contracting or incompetence at a later point in their careers. Destroying civil service also diminishes the desire of those with knowledge, credentials and career options to pursue employment with the state, driving the quality of services down- just the way these Koch/ALEC tools want it.

In light of these developments, it is obvious that the idea of the proposed changes in the bill is to take away the ability of civil servants to tell their superiors "No," and to help ensure that the people hired in these high-knowledge areas are ones who are less likely to want (or know enough) to say "No."

So I'll end this post with the same thing I said on July 1, 2012, and I want to see this message reiterated as this bill is debated in the coming weeks.
Public employees must have the freedom to say "NO" without fear of retribution when they see policies and laws being broken, or when they feel the public is being endangered by politicians and corporations who do not care about the consequences of their actions.... [T]he public is aware that government is letting them down, but they often don't think about why this is so, and they choose to take out their frustration on "faceless bureaucrats" and their local teachers instead of the people who are really screwing things up.

So the bottom line I see here is that public unionism is needed more than ever in an age of Citizens United and corporate-politician alliances. And we need to speak up and present this truth now, or else the public's last line of defense from the public sector will be obliterated, and we'll all be badly hurt if that occurs.


  1. A Walker new era rule: fired state employees lose all accumulated sick that is converted to pay for health insurance upon retirement.

    I retired last week, couldn't afford to risk losing all the sick leave I accumulated. Only caring employees with very good attendance are able to save these hours. A caring employee, is one that is likely to tell the boss when he/she disagrees. it's chilling how far these people will go.

  2. Yikes. I didn't see that in the bill text. Is that something that was done in the past with some law? I figure booting the sick leave benefit is in the long-range plan, but as far as I know it's still there for retirement as of now.

    1. I think you might have misunderstood what I posted. After the contracts expired, management at DOC came out with new work rules. One changes was that if fired the employee lost all accumulated sick leave hours. Quite chilling when an employee has accrued a substantial number of hours.

      Agree that accrual of sick leave hours to pay for health insurance is probably on their agenda.

    2. That sounds very chilling. Thanks for that inside information, looks like you got out at a good time.

  3. If my memory is still intact after these years of Walker, this change happened after Act 10 was in place for some time.