Lawmakers and protesters have clashed in Wisconsin for the past week over Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate collective bargaining for state workers.
Walker cites the state's deficit as the reason for the change, while Democrats fear the move could end collective bargaining for public unions nationwide.
The News-Sentinel asked two local leaders for their views on the Wisconsin situation, from opposite sides of the argument.
Brad Doell, president, Lodi Professional Firefighters Local 1225
On Gov. Walker threatening collective bargaining for health care: I think it's a lot of issues. Basically it's union busting. They're trying to make it difficult for labor organizations to collect union dues. They're trying to do away with collective bargaining across the board, not just with health care; collective bargaining for wages, hours and working conditions.
The International Association of Firefighters is obviously tracking the situation.
On why collective bargaining is crucial: (Collective bargaining) is extremely important. It gives both sides an opportunity to express what the needs for both parties are. I know when we (the firefighters) do collective bargaining ... we go in and we ask for things that are fair and equitable for both sides.
Collective bargaining also works in a concession bargaining atmosphere. We've been in concession bargaining with the city two times already ... We agreed not to open our contract and go into the collective bargaining process, and renegotiate our contract, because of the economy. We gave up salary and benefits to help balance the city's budget. We enjoy a great working relationship with the city.
On the long-term possible repercussions from Wisconsin: It potentially has the ability to be the catalyst for other states to follow suit. That would be a step backward. The country was built on the back of labor. I think more is accomplished when both labor and management can work together and discuss issues, and understand one another.
Kim Parigoris, chairwoman, Lodi Citizens in Action
On why state workers need to make concessions: Something's got to happen. It used to be beneficial to work for the government, and you might take less pay than a private worker, but because of the benefits it was worth it. Well, the average private employee makes $38,000 a year, compared to government workers (making) $58,000, plus they get the benefits.
I've been working for over 30 years, and I'll be lucky if I retire with Social Security for $1,500 a month. So how do (state workers) end up being better than me, when they aren't even working in an industry that produces anything?
Something's got to give. The money is just not there. We all have been making sacrifices in our private life, and will probably continue to do so. So why are they any better than the common working person?
On the possible end of collective bargaining: Don't we have enough guidelines, government regulations and labor practices already? It's not like people are going to go back to being forced to work 16 hours a day in a sweatshop making 10 cents an hour. We have all kinds of guidelines and regulations, even in the private sector. So what if it did go back to what it was before?
Why should (state union workers) only pay 10 percent of their health care benefits, and the private sector pays up to 27 percent? Why shouldn't they pay into Social Security, like the rest of us do? Why should they retire at 55 with 80 percent of their wages? What does make them better than the average private sector worker?
I would like to see California be a right-to-work state. Unions are like the ACLU — they were very, very beneficial at their inception, and they've outlived their purpose.
On the political motives of state employee unions: Public employee unions should not be allowed to turn around and use (union dues) money to line the pockets of politicians. (Unions) are obviously going to give to people who are going to promote their ideas. That's one of my biggest beefs. Union dues are theoretically paid by taxpayers, because (state worker) wages are paid by taxpayers.
Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at email@example.com.