| March 15, 2011

Oklahoma should follow Wisconsin’s lead

Last week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a bill that ended the privilege of collective bargaining for state employees. Governor Walker and lawmakers who supported the measure should be thanked for their courage.

Despite the doomsday warnings in Wisconsin, Oklahoma has found that even without collective bargaining for state employees, nearly 70,000 employees choose to work for state government, colleges, and universities in Oklahoma. Moreover, according to a report in USA Today, despite Oklahoma state employees not having the privilege of collective bargaining, these public employees earn higher average pay and benefits than private-sector workers in Oklahoma.

It’s a good bet that the very workers who trashed the Wisconsin state capitol building during the various protests will continue working under these new horrible and treacherous conditions and still be better off than their private-sector counterparts. Oklahoma lawmakers are considering passing a related measure for local government in Oklahoma. Oddly enough, the Oklahoma legislature historically has seen the wisdom of disallowing “binding arbitration” at the state level, but in 1994 the legislature strapped local governments with this burden. Binding arbitration requires that if local governments and the union and its member employees cannot come to an agreement, an out-of-state attorney is selected by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to create a solution, which is then binding unless the voters disapprove. Local citizens elect officials to represent them and govern, but then the federal government sweeps in and an unelected out-of-state attorney gives the farm away − unless voters and the local government can foot the bill for both the special election and the campaign to educate voters.

As a result:

In Oklahoma City, the average compensation package for a public safety officer is now approximately $100,000, and public safety salaries account for two-thirds of the general fund.
In Sapulpa, public safety now consumes 158.8 percent of the city’s operating budget, requiring extraordinary measures to fund both public safety and other governmental functions of the city.
In 2010, “binding arbitration” placed the fiscal fate of Stillwater citizens in the hands of an attorney in Humble, Texas. While ruling in favor of the union over the objections of Stillwater’s elected representatives, the Texas lawyer wrote that he “admits to an inherent distrust of all politicians—of whatever political party and whatever political philosophy … Such being the case, (he) also views with an inherent distrust any financial record or accounting which is prepared by or on behalf of any politician.”
In 2009, Oklahoma City began the process of calling an election to challenge an arbitrator’s ruling, until the arbitrator selected a ballot offered by the labor union that gave voters only one option to choose from—voting for the union’s preferred contract—with no option to vote no.
Oklahoma lawmakers need to follow the lead of Wisconsin and give local citizens and their local governments the power to be fiscally responsible by ending binding arbitration.

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