Wisconsin teachers aren't just marching with signs comparing Republican Gov. Scott Walker to Hitler. They have also had quite a few things to say about the budget plan he has proposed, which would require many state workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward their pensions and pay 12.6 percent of their insurance premiums -- still much less than the average Wisconsinite pays for insurance through work.
Walker's plan more directly threatens the union bosses because the state would stop garnishing union members' wages on behalf of the union. It would also let workers vote each year on which union they want representing them (if any). It also bars negotiations for even more generous fringe benefits.
I noticed several teachers discussing the issues with Wisconsin newspapers. In order to give their statements some context, I obtained salary data from Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, through the website of the Appleton Post-Crescent.
No one becomes a teacher in order to get rich. But these folks are not doing too badly -- they certainly aren't exploited workers. It's important to remember that most teachers don't have to work year-round. These teachers also live in a state with a relatively low cost of living, where the average one-income household makes $40,500 per year and the median household income -- which includes families with two working spouses -- is $52,000.
Wisconsin teachers' pay is good, and the benefits are excellent. I defy anyone to find a private sector workplace where you can contribute only 6 percent for a generous defined benefit retirement plan, and have your employer pick up the tab for 88 percent of your health insurance. It just doesn't exist. What we're seeing is a protest based on disrespect for the taxpayers who are picking up the tab, most of whom do not make as much as the members of the teacher's union.
What's happening here is that the union sees its position threatened -- it is accustomed to helping elect Democrats who care a lot less about taxpayers than about unions, and then sitting comfortably on both sides of the negotiating table.