How the two states deal with their respective public-sector unions
and state employees is as different as night and day.
Senate last week approved a measure on education reform, sponsored
by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, that deals
primarily with teachers' collective bargaining rights. Written into
the legislation are tougher standards that could lead to the firing
of poorly performing teachers.
Illinois's northern neighbor, Wisconsin, had been in the national
spotlight in recent months after its newly elected governor moved
through a package of union reform measures that effectively limits
collective bargaining to issues of wages and limits pay increases to
the rate of inflation. It also calls for public employees to
contribute more to the cost of their health care and pension plans.
Thousands of protesters descended on the Wisconsin Capitol in
Madison, loudly proclaiming their displeasure with the reform
package. Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure into law
last month, but it is stalled in court.
Several pundits have weighed in on how the two states handled
their issues with public employee unions and examined the different
approaches by the two governors.
Adam Andrzejewski, who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican
gubernatorial primary in Illinois, called Walker's actions
"He actually ran on the policies that he's implemented, so he was
very transparent about it when he was running for governor of
Wisconsin. He told the taxpayers … exactly what he was going to do,"
Andrzejewski said. "They elected him, and then he did it -- now this
is very refreshing from a politician."
Jeff Tucek, team leader for pension and compensation reform for
the Illinois Tea Party, said if Walker had increased income taxes --
as Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn did -- to fill the public-sector's
pension deficit, then perhaps the unions would not have been so
visibly upset. But that doesn't mean Tucek is in agreement with
Quinn, who is a staunch supporter of collective bargaining.
"Collective bargaining (with public sectors) -- that's the thing
that really has to go. It can't survive in a world that we can
afford anymore," Tucek said. "And basically it really (is)
counterproductive for really good people, no matter who you are --
police, (firefighters), teachers -- because it doesn't allow the
best to come forward. They all get promised the same thing, and it
holds us down."
Not everyone admires Walker's approach, however.
Cheryl Maranto, an associate professor from Marquette University
in Milwaukee, said Illinois worked through five months of
negotiations with unions, teachers, parents and lawmakers to come up
with solutions found in the pending legislation.
"Nobody is fully happy with it -- everybody kind of feels like
they got what they needed, which is what collective bargaining is
supposed to be about," said Maranto, who researches public-sector
labor laws. "It's just (a) complete unilateral position in
Wisconsin. There aren't any discussion(s) whatsoever or attempts to
identify what the real underlying issues were or if there were other
ways to do it."
She also said Walker has ulterior motives.
"Even though the bill is about collective bargaining, the purpose
of it really is to cut wages and benefits of public employees. He's
framed it as being a budget measure," Maranto said.
Multiple attempts to reach Walker's office by telephone were
unsuccessful. But the governor's website states that collective
bargaining fiscally impacts the government, and the changes he
signed are critical to keeping the state moving forward financially.
Illinois' public-sector pension system had a $54.4 billion
deficit in January, the latest month for which figures are
available, according to the Sunshine Review, a nonprofit
organization that promotes state and local government transparency.
Wisconsin's public-sector pension system had a $252 million deficit
for the same month, Sunshine Review reported.
Quinn, a Democrat, has constantly chided Walker in the media.
"If you're the union and you represent the teachers, you should
have good collective bargaining. You're not going to win everything,
but that's what life is all about -- discussion, debate, a dialog
and ultimately coming to an agreement," Quinn said.
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Illinois might soon be facing a similar battle as in Wisconsin.
Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel recruited Jean-Claude Brizard --
who's been a supporter of charter schools and merit pay for teachers
-- as the chief executive officer for Chicago Public Schools, one of
the largest primary and secondary school systems in the nation.
Critics said leadership is also key to handling public unions.
Tom Britton, associate professor of law from Southern Illinois
University, said that "leaders have a lot of obligation to stake out
"And as long as they do that, there's opportunity for resolutions
of disputes," he said. "But as long as (they) stake out positions
that are so hard and so firm, I think there's little chance of
dispute resolution. ... I think we've seen that in Wisconsin, and
that's why the Democratic legislators left Wisconsin."
Illinois and Wisconsin have similarities and differences with
political leadership. The Illinois General Assembly's majority party
is Democrat, as is Quinn. Wisconsin's General Assembly's majority
party is Republican, as is Walker.
Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate fled the state, crossing the
border into Illinois, when it was time to vote on Walker's
collective bargaining measure. The Republicans amended the bill,
removing financial aspects so a supermajority was not required. Both
chambers of the Wisconsin General Assembly approved the legislation.
Andrzejewski called the move a hard fight.
"The Democrats in Wisconsin are actually fighting for their
constituencies -- the public-sector union," he said.
But Briton said it was simply the minority party trying to flex
any political muscles they could.
"Even for the minority party, I think you have to acknowledge
their existence," Britton said. "You have to work toward some form
of acceptable resolution with the minority party."
Robert Bruno, professor and director of labor education programs
at University of Illinois at Chicago, said the different political
parties handle public employee unions differently.
"I don't think that it's any secret that there's a pretty sharp
division between the two parties in their commitments to particular
economic agendas and social causes and institutions that they
uphold," Bruno said. "And shifts (in Wisconsin) from Democrats to
Republicans in this political climate have led to a much more --
frankly, one of the most, if not the most -- anti-labor
working-class agenda that we've seen in the last couple of decades."
Critics have said that Walker was unwilling to negotiate.
"You need some sort of system of mediating those conflicts and
trying to sit down and negotiate with various conflicting
interests," said William Powell Jones, labor historian from
University of Wisconsin.
Jones said things would have played out differently if Wisconsin
"Theoretically it could have taken as long as this has taken, but
certainly I think it would have not (have) created this sort of
political gridlock that we're seeing now," he said.
Maranto, the collective bargaining expert from Marquette
University, said no matter what their political leaning, each state
could learn something from the other.
Statehouse News; By MARY J. CRISTOBAL]