By Matt Jensen – ALC President
As many of you are aware, several states across the country have been debating and working on how to balance their budgets. The entire country has seen what was going on in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker and the state legislature there were trying to make up a 3.6 billion dollar deficit.
One of the solutions the Governor had proposed was for all state workers, including teachers, to a pay a portion of their retirement and insurance benefits. The other controversial issue was restricting collective bargaining privileges except on wages for all public employees. Wisconsin is not the only state dealing with these issues. Indiana, Ohio, and New Jersey are taking the same approach as Wisconsin to try to lower their deficits.
There was a firestorm of opposition coming from several labor unions and the teachers union. President Obama was visiting Wisconsin at the time the protests were just beginning and did an interview with a local television station. He said in the interview that he didn’t know much about the situation in Wisconsin and that he had not been following it. It was interesting that at the same time of the interview, the President’s own website was calling for people to organize against Governor Walker’s agenda.
To my knowledge, Wisconsin was the only state in the U.S. that was controlled by Democrat majorities and a Democratic Governor only to be replaced by Republican majorities in both the assembly and the senate, along with a new Republican Governor in the last election. It was pretty obvious that Wisconsin voters wanted something different in their government.
I have a growing concern of why the President of the United States keeps imposing his views on state governments. This isn’t the first time, remember, Arizona is currently being sued by the federal government because of the new immigration laws that was recently passed. What is even more alarming is that when a federal court judge ruled a law unconstitutional like “Obama Care”, the administration ignores the ruling and keeps implementing the law. The oil drilling moratorium that the administration placed on Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico was denied by a federal court and yet it is still being enforced, although recently some drilling permits have been granted, possibly due to political pressure.
Now that the Wisconsin legislature has a Republican majority, they are trying to implement their agenda. When the budget repair bill was taken up the Democrats knew that they didn’t have the votes to stop the bill. In an unprecedented move, fourteen Wisconsin Democratic Senators fled to Illinois to protest the vote. In order to have a quorum in the Wisconsin Senate there must be at least one member from the minority party in the chamber at the time of the vote on budgetary issues.
Whatever side of this issue you are on, this move is troubling. After the Wisconsin Democrats left the state, Indiana Democrats did the exact same thing on basically the same issue. What kind of precedent is this setting? So now when one political party disagrees with the other they will hold Democracy hostage until their demands are met?
The restriction of collective bargaining for public employees was the main issue that caused the Democrats to flee Wisconsin. This would, in all truth severely limit the power of the unions. I question whether the Democratic Senators so fiercely support the public employees or their union dues that are automatically collected to fund their political way of life. Government employee unions, in light of all the information reported on this issue, appears to be a large conflict of interest. I assume that is why federal employees don’t have collective bargaining privileges. I can sympathize with public employees and their fear of losing security in their workplace.
In many cases I could see a positive result from this change. Under normal circumstances, the competence of a good employee would take priority over seniority. The quality and proven performance should dictate their compensation. I believe that great teachers, foresters, transportation and utility workers, etc., should be paid considerably higher than poor performers in their field. In the end, I think we would have greatly improved schools and public services.
The reality is that state governments cannot continue to operate in the red. Hopefully, by the time you are reading this article, the problems in Wisconsin will be resolved. Across the U.S. we saw many states elect Republican congressmen and governors in 2010. We are all seeing that elections have consequences and Americans appear to want to see a change in how their government is operating.
To all of us in the logging industry, change and uncertainty are part of our everyday lives. We are subject to volatile fuel and wood prices which, for the most part, are out of our control. Large capital investments for equipment to remain competitive and efficient are the norm. All this being said we are in our industry by choice. We willingly accept the premise that our ambition and business sense will determine our success or failure. There are often some very challenging days, but most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.
Matt Jensen is the President of the American Loggers Council, which represents over 50,000 logging professionals in 30 states. Matt’s operation, Whitetail Logging, is headquartered in Crandon, Wisconsin. For more information please contact the American Loggers Council office at 409-625-0206 or by e-mail.