In Madison, greed cloaked in self-righteousness 

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.

  • Gov. Walker is “trying to dictate what we'll do, how we'll do it, when it'll be done,” said teacher Debbie Caldwell (who makes $67,000 per year in salary plus $18,000 in benefits).
  • Sarah McDowell ($68,000 salary, $20,000 fringe) says that it’s not fair for her to lose collective bargaining rights against taxpayers.
  • Rita Miller ($58,000 salary, $12,000 benefits) felt the same way: "[Y]ou can’t take A, B, C, D and everything we’ve worked for in one fell swoop.” 
  • Give credit to teacher Steve Argo ($59,000 salary, $29,000 benefits) for at least taking a personal day to participate in the protests, instead of faking sick like thousands of other teachers have been doing across the state.

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.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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