EDITORIAL: Handing Walker a clear ‘victory’

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Tactics blow up in the faces of union leaders.

SCORE AN EXCHANGE of words this week between teachers union leaders and Gov. Scott Walker like this:

Walker 1, unions 0.

The dust-up stems from maneuvers related to fiscal problems within the Milwaukee Public Schools. Serious staff cuts loom unless district managers can find alternatives. Initially, the MPS teachers union declined to consider concessions along the lines of Walker’s reforms in order to create savings and preserve jobs.

But facing the abyss, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association and the MPS system asked state legislators and the governor to put forward legislation allowing the district to reconsider.

THEN A LETTER surfaced written by teachers union leaders from Madison, Kenosha, Green Bay and Racine. The letter was addressed to Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee teachers union, and Sid Hatch, the union executive director.

The letter stated: “We write to express our grave concern that MTEA has asked their legislators to introduce and work to pass legislation which would enable MTEA and the Milwaukee Public Schools to enter into an agreement in which MTEA would make economic concessions such as those enabled by Governor Walker’s WI Act 65. ...

“Such legislation will enable Governor Walker to claim victory of his policy to reign (sic) in public employee wages and benefits. ... Allowing Governor Walker to make such a claim just before the recall election will prove detrimental to recalling him and, therefore, will only enhance his ability to further harm all Wisconsin public employees.

“We ask that you immediately withdraw your request for this legislation.”

WALKER FIRED BACK with a letter of his own, addressed to the union leaders in Madison, Kenosha, Green Bay and Racine:

“I was disappointed in your letter to the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA). Last week, MTEA and the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) system asked the legislature for the ability to utilize budget tools to realize savings. ...

“Your use of Wisconsin school children and the livelihood of educators as political pawns is shameful and causes me to reaffirm my commitment to stand behind the decisions like the one made by Bob Peterson ... In this instance he is putting school children before politics and he should receive credit for standing up for what is right. That is why I intend to sign the legislation that will help MTEA and MPS put students first.”

OBVIOUSLY, BOTH LETTERS drip with political ink. But Walker scores a direct hit in making his point.

If labor and management in Milwaukee want to work together to fashion an acceptable local solution, that’s a good thing.

And if union leaders from other districts want to interfere with that process in a way that could hurt kids and cost jobs, all to keep Walker from claiming “victory,” that’s a bad thing.

As we have said since Walker’s reforms first were proposed, expecting public employees to accept responsibility for paying a certain portion of insurance and pension benefits makes sense, and it’s still a very good deal compared with prevailing conditions in the private sector. We’ve also said that, if the governor had stopped there, his approval ratings probably would be 60 percent or more and there would be no recall. His heavy-handed determination to strongarm and bust the unions was over the top and today’s divisive climate is the direct result.

But that’s an argument for another time.

Today, the anti-Walker obsession of these union leaders has handed Walker the “victory” they hoped to deny him.

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