Ending the stalemate in Wisconsin
There is a certified stalemate in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker, who is trying to effectively end collective bargaining rights for most public sector workers in Wisconsin, has said he will not compromise. The Democratic state senators who fled the state to avoid a vote on the controversial bill have said they won't return, even if other key votes are held. Union leaders may have agreed to give up plenty in the way of pension and benefit costs for their members, but they refuse to negotiate on collective bargaining rights.
And if this keeps up, somebody is going to lose. Walker could manage to pass his budget, ending most collective bargaining rights in the process, but he's likely to make some enemies along the way, both among union voters and the many working-class and middle-class voters who benefit from their power. The Democratic senators could defeat the controversial bill, but they're likely to be held accountable for the votes they miss on other key matters, such as a GOP-backed proposal to require photo IDs at the polls. And even if union leaders hold onto their collective bargaining rights, they've given up some of the very pension and salary benefits they are supposed to be so powerful to retain. If they don't hold onto the negotiation rights, they risk a sharp slide into irrelevance.
All of which raises an interesting question. Is it better leadership for Walker, the Democratic senators and the union leaders--each in their own separate ways--to hold fast to their principles or find a third way that will bring a stalemate to the end? What is a more effective leadership skill: Steadfast adherence to one's beliefs or the ability to negotiate well?
All three appear to be working hard at the first one. Walker has been described as particularly calm in his staunch refusal to back down from his interest not only in balancing the budget, but in ending collective bargaining rights in order to keep public employment costs from rising too high in the future. Meanwhile, the Democratic state senators who've decamped for Illinois appear willing to miss out on other important votes--though the Wisconsin State-Journal notes the Senate doesn't have many lined up and ready for a vote. And union leaders have made clear their desire to retain the collective bargaining rights--a key benefit to paying union dues--that keep them in business.
If there's a way around the stalemate, at this point I doubt it will come from any of these three groups. Often in such showdowns, a leader emerges who has not been so intimately tied to any one position, but can find commonalities among the different groups. At this point, it appears unlikely to be a Republican state senator. But perhaps someone or some group will emerge that can bring the three parties together.
Without picking sides on the issue--I worry about the slippery slope that is the loss of union rights, but also agree inflated public sector pensions and benefits must come more in line with the current workforce--I will side with negotiation skills as the more important leadership tactic. At this point, the best thing Governor Walker can do as a leader (and as Wisconsin's chief executive, it is his job to do it) is to get everyone to the table and find a solution to this stalemate that hopefully doesn't involve too many layoff notices. He may not get everything he wants, but if he's able to negotiate a compromise, he'll get plenty more in terms of leadership bona fides.
February 22, 2011; 11:33 AM ET |
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