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Wisconsin Union Battle Brings Out the Worst in Leaders

Wisconsin Union Battler Brings Out the Worst in LeadersOn February 11, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced a plan to fix the state's budget crisis by getting union workers to contribute to their own health insurance and pension benefits and limiting their collective bargaining rights.

It's not surprising that Walker's action ignited a firestorm of debate that's spread to multiple states and dominated the news cycle ever since. On the offensive are newly elected republican governors with a mandate to rein in spending. On the defensive are democrats and public labor union workers.

The debates, protests, and commentary are all healthy in a democratic society. But the behavior of leaders and professionals on both sides of the issue has, in my view, been appalling. I'm talking about everyone from President Obama and Governor Walker to labor union leaders, teachers, and even doctors.

These elected officials and professionals have misrepresented, played games, BSed, outright lied, run away from their jobs, and generally acted like spoiled children when adults threaten to take away their toys. You think I'm kidding? Check this out:

  • The state's 14 democratic senators. All 14 democratic state senators fled the state and have been hiding out in Illinois hotels to prevent the quorum needed for a vote on the state budget. Of course they'd lose, but the democrats lost the election in November and that's the way it works. So they're preventing the democratic process from moving forward and avoiding what they're paid to do, both of which are reprehensible.
  • Governor Scott Walker. Much of what Walker proposed is clearly needed to resolve the state's budget crisis. But his proposed limitation on collective bargaining rights - a hot button for labor unions - doesn't even include wages, so its budget impact isn't obvious. Instead of hiding behind his now-familiar refrain, "we're all out of options here," Walker needs to address the benefits of this complex and controversial issue directly. If it's union-busting, he should say so.
  • President Barack Obama. By calling the proposal "an assault on unions," President Obama took a side in a matter that 1) doesn't involve the federal government, and 2) calls attention to his own failure to address a ballooning federal deficit. Walker's response was a good one, "We're focused on balancing our budget; it would be wise for the president and others in Washington to focus on balancing their budget, which they're a long way from doing."
  • Labor union leader Leo Gerard. In an interview, the president of the United Steelworkers union, Leo Gerard, said a Gallup poll that shows a sharp decline in public support for labor unions to an all-time low isn't valid because the questions are skewed against labor unions, even though Gallup's been taking the same poll that asks the same questions since 1936. That was just the beginning of 30 minutes of so much skewed BS it made my head spin.
  • Teachers and doctors. Most appalling of all, teachers caused school shutdowns across the state when they called in sick for days so they could protest. Besides selfishly impacting schools and sending a message to students that it's okay to lie and break the law (teacher strikes are illegal), the action was enabled by doctors who wrote fake notes that the teachers were sick. That's unconscionable.
I can't help but wonder how much more effective our nation would be if leaders and professionals didn't think it was okay to be disingenuous, lie, game the system, and break the law, not for the greater good, but in the name of selfish self-interest. It's really disappointing, especially at a time when we need to work together to solve big problems that affect all of us.
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Image: sdharwadker via Flickr
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