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As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

Governor Walker's tightrope walk

Question: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin continues to demand an end to collective bargaining rights for state employees even after winning their agreement on the benefit reductions he sought. These are the same state employees he must rely on to operate state government and implement his policies. How should he strike the balance between the urgent need to restore the state's fiscal health and his longer-term challenge of leading a large governmental enterprise?

The following responses come from four of the fellows that make up the Coro 2011 class.

Collective bargaining rights can enable and support sustainable budget reforms

This question presents a false dichotomy: restoring the state's fiscal health and the longer-term challenge of leading a governmental enterprise are not opposing forces that need to be balanced, but instead complementary goals that go hand in hand.

The spending cuts and revenue increases necessary to address the acute budget crisis require a comprehensive public conversation about the priorities of the state--and employees must have the right to represent themselves in that conversation. Although contentious, the current budget battle is actually an opportunity for Wisconsin's state government to cut unsustainable spending and increase revenue so the state can stay solvent over the long term. Major reforms like these are best made with the input and support of employees.

Good relationships between employees and their employer are crucial for the long-term success of an organization, including a government. By conducting the present budget negotiations transparently and respectfully, Governor Walker could have laid the foundation for many years of balanced state budgets, without destroying the relationship between the state and its employees. Especially pernicious is his insistence on limiting collective bargaining rights even after unions have agreed to his proposals. This is political bravado; Walker is more concerned with earning headlines than actual policy reform.

Collective bargaining rights for public employees are not incompatible with dramatic budget reforms in a time of crisis. Unions can enhance the government's efforts, by organizing their members to accept broad concessions in the short term and by contributing to an inclusive decision-making process that will produce the better long-term policy.

Gov. Walker had a chance to show how effectively a state can work with public employees to achieve both short- and long-term goals. The unions had stepped up to the challenge by making serious concessions. Sadly, Walker has chosen to try to score political points with conservatives instead of focusing on the needs of his state. Wisconsin and other state governments will suffer the results. -- Ashley Meyers


The organizational behavior of state politics

Organizational behavior textbooks always say that in order for an organization or group of people to digest a message, they have to be a receptive audience. Without an open mind and a willingness to listen, why even try? Well, I'm not saying do not try; instead just recognize that the Wisconsin state employees are a very unreceptive audience. In order to find and maintain the balance mentioned above, Governor Walker needs to change the cultural dynamic between himself and the state employees. He has a message to share--I need to balance the budget--and reasoning to back it up. But in a depressed economy, employees with families to care for will understandably have trouble hearing his reasoned arguments. With a receptive audience, Governor Walker can impart his message: why it is essential to put an end to collective bargaining, what gains will the state will receive as a whole and why it is in the own benefit of employees to agree in spite of personal losses. By communicating the intentions behind his actions, he can provide context and generate support. But first things first. Before any of this can happen, there is a more primary need: build credibility and develop a listening audience. Only then will his audience become receptive to his message. Only then can he develop a strong relationship with the state employees. Only then can he have a chance at maintaining the balance of governing a state while making tough budget decisions. -- Kimya Saied


Walker the glutton

Simply put, Governor Scott Walker is trying to have his cake, dessert wine, ice cream and eat it too. Walker secured the benefit reductions sought, and now he is being a political glutton by trying to end collective bargaining rights for the same state employees that were willing to join him for dinner. I understand the necessity to close the state deficit; however, targeting one group of people to accomplish the goal is counter-productive and parochial to approaching his states problems.

Wisconsin's budget should not be balanced on the backs of any one group--union workers, the wealthy, the poor, the elderly--but instead every citizen across sectors needs to be willing to compromise during the arduous planning process. Walker has made the unenviable mistake of taking too much from the daily operators of Wisconsin, which has made it more of a debacle than he initially intended.

Exhausting any one group or sector of their resources will have a lasting financial impact on the state that is counterproductive to what Wisconsin citizens desire. Furthermore, Governor Walker's efforts have become an impediment for him to demonstrate effective leadership, since many are not invested in his proposals. It's like serving shellfish to dinner guests who are allergic to seafood--bad for the guests, but great for the host who just happens to love shellfish.

Governor Walker must identify alternative means to balance the budget and must establish buy-in from a myriad of stakeholders beyond what seemingly appears to be a highly partisan move. Secondly, cuts cannot affect any one group; every citizen must compromise something. Finally, negotiations must prevent his state employees operating his day-to-day governmental enterprise to be content enough to keep working to prevent further fiscal damage to an already hurt economy. He's definitely not making tough choices. He's making political moves. Failing to see the necessity of balancing the budget with universal sacrifice can end in, well, a larger mess than he already has on his hands. -- Anthony Harbour


Re-envisioning Wisconsin

In order for Governor Walker to successfully govern a body of public employees after proposing these serious cuts to their collective bargaining rights, he will have to provide something that has so far been missing in the recent tumultuous debate: a vision for Wisconsin. It is easy at this moment to get caught up in the media attention, the political rangling and the thousands of protesters in the streets. However, if the governor is to successfully govern once this crisis is over, he needs to remind his constituents what the real goals for the state are: fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget and 250,000 more jobs in the state by 2015. Those are the goals he was presumably voted in to achieve, and successful governing after these political battles will require him to paint again for his constituents that vision. -- Tim Shaw

By Coro Fellows

 |  March 1, 2011; 3:40 PM ET
Category:  Economic crisis , Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Different versions of truth | Next: You get what you pay for--even with state employees

Comments

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why fault labor for being organized? we let big business contribute all that it wants. we should treat big labor the same way too. this conversation should be about holding elected officials accountable, not interest groups. AND, when you are governor, you represent the entire state, not just those who got you elected. it is time for walker to do his job and find some compromise.

Posted by: emg1011 | March 2, 2011 12:22 PM

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What we don't let Big Business (or any business except for the cable and telephone companies) do is run monopolies. This is for a very good reason, as inevitably monopolies produce some combination of higher prices and lower quality for their customers.

Labor unions are simply government protected labor monopolies. They are parasites whose sole goal is to maximize the (union) labor costs of whatever organization they attach themselves to. They are only rarely and accidently beneficial to their hosts, and in almost all cases reduce the efficiency and in the long run the viability of their hosts.

Take a look at any heavily unionized industry in the private sector. Almost all are in long term decline, and where they are not it is often non-union shops which manage to hold on.

The reasons are clear. Even where union wages are at true market rates unions still impede the ability of management to introduce new methods, or to reallocate or reduce the workforce. How many years after the invention of the diesel engine were fireman still required to be present in locomotives due to union rules?

Why we allow unions in government at all is a good question. Already protected by civil service rules and a much lower rates of turnover. Do we really want firefighters, police officers and teachers walking off the job to hold us up for more? It's bad enough they have an entire political party more attuned to their needs than to those of the taxpayer.

Posted by: robert17 | March 4, 2011 6:50 PM
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The nation is in difficult economic times, they seem to be more acute in Wisconsin. However, singling out a particular group to shoulder the financial burden is unfair and will breed resentment. In addition to producing disgruntled and unmotivated employees the quality of service will decrease.
The debts of the state must be borne by the entire state. To remove long term rights to pay for short term errors is horribly short sighted. The current out-of-balance state must be rectified by taking not inconsiderable measures, but Governor Walker's approach is highhanded and ultimately destructive. Fairness is not the be-all end-all of leadership, but he needs to more evenly distribute the hardship so as not to estrange any particular group.

Posted by: alexdobranich | March 3, 2011 3:00 PM
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During his short time in office, Governor Walker has shown to be short-sighted. Only concerning himself with "the now" and neglecting to strategically forecast for his future will eventually lead him down a dead end road. His drastic and poorly thought out attempts to close the budget gap by stripping away collective bargaining will cost him in the long run. The state workers have tried to meet him in the middle, only for him to remain on his side of the field. If he keeps this approach, contention will increase and he will further be unable to effectively govern the state of Wisconsin.

Posted by: gfree22 | March 3, 2011 12:06 AM
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During his short time in office, Governor Walker has shown to be short-sighted. Only concerning himself with "the now" and neglecting to strategically forecast for his future will eventually lead him down a dead end road. His drastic and poorly thought out attempts to close the budget gap by stripping away collective bargaining will cost him in the long run. The state workers have tried to meet him in the middle, only for him to remain on his side of the field. If he keeps this approach, contention will increase and he will further be unable to effectively govern the state of Wisconsin.

Posted by: gfree22 | March 3, 2011 12:04 AM
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During his short time in office, Governor Walker has shown to be short-sighted. Only concerning himself with "the now" and neglecting to strategically forecast for his future will eventually lead him down a dead end road. His drastic and poorly thought out attempts to close the budget gap by stripping away collective bargaining will cost him in the long run. The state workers have tried to meet him in the middle, only for him to remain on his side of the field. If he keeps this approach, contention will increase and he will further be unable to effectively govern the state of Wisconsin.

Posted by: gfree22 | March 3, 2011 12:03 AM
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Great 'shellfish at the dinner table' analogy. If the government can't even effectively take care of its own employees, how can they be trusted with the welfare of the greater public? If I were a regular citizen, I'd be scared. The governor is prepared to slash health care plans and the education because to target the working middle class, but he did not hesitate for a moment to make 177 million dollars worth of tax cuts to benefit those in the heightest tax brack. Cutting expenditures without coming up with new sources of revenue is a nonsensical way to close the budget.

Posted by: vizcaya49 | March 2, 2011 9:29 PM
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Wow. Unions drove all these companies bankrupt!! No mention of corporate mismanagement, obscene salaries and golden parachutes for top managers. Why are the workers always blamed for the failures at the top by some in this country?
No no,the unions must go. Then all the workers will be on "equal footing". Is that a synonym for low wages?

Posted by: mlx10dp | March 2, 2011 3:01 PM
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Let's not forget that there are times when cuts to government that are too drastic end up hurting a state's economy and tax-base enough that in the long-term these cuts end up putting the government in a worse financial situation than if salary cuts hadn't happened in the first place. The real question is whether Governor Walker is more concerned with his state's financial health or the political optics associated with the current situation.

Posted by: stoicism | March 2, 2011 12:59 PM
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why fault labor for being organized? we let big business contribute all that it wants. we should treat big labor the same way too. this conversation should be about holding elected officials accountable, not interest groups. AND, when you are governor, you represent the entire state, not just those who got you elected. it is time for walker to do his job and find some compromise.

Posted by: emg1011 | March 2, 2011 12:22 PM
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The Koch's have less influence on Wisconsin politics than the public sector unions. I would like to compare the total political donations on each side. The implication is that the Koch's are a corrupting influence and the big labor is not. Each one of those legislators in orange could have had a slogan on their sweatshirts: "PROPERTY OF BIG LABOR" What people fail to realize is that labor is a "special interest" and not some benevolent organization dedicated to the people of this state. They are there for union people only and that shows us whose side they are really on.

Posted by: titleguy | March 2, 2011 10:34 AM
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Anyone want to bet that a couple of those WI state senators in hiding will come back to WI in the next few hours?

Posted by: SeniorVet | March 1, 2011 10:47 PM
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People of Wisconsin—your statehouse has been sold at auction to the KOCH brothers. OK, there was no auction. It was a no-bid purchase. If Scott Walker has his way, the only people who will be allowed access to the state capitol in Wisconsin are the Koch brothers. But then that wouldn’t work, since Scott Walker seems to have such a hard time telling who is a real Koch brother and who isn’t.
Walkers' Bill if passed would also give that Governor access to raid the state Pension, and sell the state utilities without bidding. While the world cries out for freedom we are moving backwards.

Governor Walker’s budget plan for Wisconsin calls for cutting $900 million from education. If you cut $900 million from education, there won’t be a school kid in Wisconsin who will have enough education to know what $900 million is. Maybe that’s the plan. Cut $900 billion from education in Wisconsin, and a few years down the line, the term “cheeseheads” is going to be sadly appropriate.

ATTENTION WASHINGTON !! ARE YOU LISTENING ?
WE ARE REALLY PISSED OFF!! IT STARTED WITH GIVING AWAY OUR FUTURE WITH a 1% A TAX CUT AND NOW WE ARE BEING PUSHED INTO POVERTY.

SUNSET THOSE TAX CUTS AND HELP THE STATES AND SUPPORT THE TEACHERS>>PLEASE!!!!!

Posted by: westbocaguy | March 1, 2011 8:57 PM
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Governor Walker was elected to cut spending.

To be effective, he can't be concerned with winning a popularity contest.

This is about leadership, not sticking your finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.

Good luck to you all in Wisconsin. You have made the right choice.

Posted by: dcorley | March 1, 2011 6:21 PM
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Governor Walker is busy setting up his next career move and endearing himself to the far right and future donors that he has neglected his current responsibility, to govern the State of Wisconsin. The Unions have met him half way by agreeing to his benefit reductions proposal. It is time he did the same. The Governor's actions so far have me changing from a skeptic to a believer in Unions. If my employer were to act with such little integrity, I would want people on my side willing to stand up for me.

Posted by: lsb05 | March 1, 2011 6:17 PM
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Finally we get a politician who will stand up to the unions, and the liberal press attacks him (like this article). It would help this country so much to get rid of the unions. Union membership is down, because they drove most of the busnesses, that had unions, bankrupt. Now if we can get rid of the rest of them, all the workers will be on equal footing. Why should union workers have special rights. Let the goverment workers compete in a free market, like the rest of us.

Posted by: MJDD | March 1, 2011 5:16 PM
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For some quick historical context, pro-union stalwart Franklin Delano Roosevelt also didn't think balance was necessary when dealing with public employee unions:

"... Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government. All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations ... The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for ... officials ... to bind the employer ... The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives ...

"Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees. Upon employees in the federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people ... This obligation is paramount ... A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent ... to prevent or obstruct ... Government ... Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government ... is unthinkable and intolerable."

Posted by: jason_of_the_argonauts | March 1, 2011 5:12 PM
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Gov. Scott Walker will walk away from this incident with praise by the conservative right. The end of collective bargaining is an ideal victory for proponents of big business who are heavy contenders with labor unions for the largest campaign contributions.

I would say Gov. Walker's political ploy is beneficial for party politics but not fit for governing. And he must remember that people not politics should be at the core of his decision-making.

Posted by: skepticLA | March 1, 2011 5:12 PM
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I agree with Ashley that the question presented this week sets up a false dichotomy: balancing a state budget and maintaining healthy state finances seems entirely compatible with, if not reliant upon, maintaining a productive, committed workforce. If state employees work in fear of the other shoe dropping, they're less likely to be focused on their jobs.

I also agree with EMG1011: compromise is not a dirty word. We should laud our elected officials who are mature and nuanced enough to seek balanced compromise. It seems hard to blame Governor Walker for doing exactly what his base expects of him....

Posted by: KatyYoung1 | March 1, 2011 5:09 PM
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It appears that Walker does not seem to think that a balance is necessary. In fact, balance in some small way means compromise, which is something he does not appear to have as a governing priority. Until our elected officials come to see balance as necessary, we are going to continually find ourselves in a political environment where dialogue is actively discouraged-on both sides of the aisle.

Posted by: emg1011 | March 1, 2011 5:02 PM
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Listening to Walker's intense fast pace disjointed speech is similar to Charlie Sheen, I am sure both are in denial about what is going on around in and around them.

Posted by: bm66535 | March 1, 2011 4:46 PM
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