An Open Letter to the Honorable Scott Walker, Governor of the State of Wisconsin

Governor Walker, my name is Samuel M. Sperling. I write a column for The Tolucan Times, a local newspaper in Southern California. I’m writing to get first-hand information about your “repair the budget” proposal, and about the continuing opposition to certain provisions of that proposal.

First, I should tell you that I’m a retired Los Angeles City employee. I worked in Human Resource Management for nearly 30 years and was not eligible for union membership. I did, however, meet a number of union leaders, and I had an opportunity to see the collective bargaining process in action.

Based on my experience, I do not believe it’s fair to blame public employee unions for the high cost of government. Nor do I feel that denying unions the right to bargain for their members would be an effective way to cut government spending.

In Los Angeles, City Management bargains with several separate unions. Typically, the leader of each union submits a list of demands, the City Administrative Office studies the list, decides which demands are negotiable, and the bargaining begins. When the two sides reach agreement, they sign an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), which is then sent to the Mayor and Council for consideration.

Please note that while unions may demand higher pay or better benefits for their members, union demands are, in fact, nothing more than requests. They can be declared inappropriate, unreasonable or excessive — they can even be rejected or modified — at three distinct levels of City Management. The point is, in Los Angeles union demands cannot objectively be blamed for budget deficits.

Governor Walker, unless I’m corrected on this point, I shall assume that collective bargaining in Wisconsin is not substantially different than collective bargaining in the City of Los Angeles. Based on that assumption and on the nationally televised reports from Madison, I respectfully ask you to respond to the following questions:

1). Is the budget deficit you say you want to repair a real deficit? Is it true that, just before you were installed as Governor, the State of Wisconsin was officially declared to have a budget surplus? How is it that now, after just two months in office, you say the State has a serious deficit? I ask you to help me understand this apparent contradiction.

2). If you’re concerned about repairing the Wisconsin State budget, why are you unwilling to sit down with the union leaders who have publicly agreed to accept a larger share of their health care/pension costs? Are you aware that observers across the country are citing your refusal as an indication that your real purpose is to break up Wisconsin’s public employee unions? How do you respond to that charge?

3). If collective bargaining with public employee unions in Wisconsin is not substantially different from collective bargaining with public employee unions in Los Angeles, why do you insist that unions are responsible for the high cost of government in Wisconsin? Would you consider taking a hard look at the role of those Wisconsin State employees — elected and appointed — who are sworn to work on behalf of the people, and who have the power to say “No” to union demands?

4). If you’re convinced that public employee unions are a threat to Wisconsin’s economy, why don’t you strip all the unions of their right to bargain collectively? Is it just a coincidence that the three unions which you exempt from this fate are the same three unions that supported your election? Are you aware that people across the country are accusing you of duplicity — of misleading the people of Wisconsin? How do you respond to that charge, Governor? A timely response will be appreciated.

You can contact Samuel Sperling at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.