HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN:

HELLO FROM EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN - city of big bottoms and small minds.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

HEY, HEY, HO, HO! PINOCCHIO WALKER'S GOT TO GO!

And how can you tell that Governor Walker is telling lies? His lips are moving.

Examples:

"I campaigned on (the proposals in the budget repair bill for Wisconsin) all throughout the election. Anybody who says they are shocked on this has been asleep for the past two years."
Scott Walker on Monday, February 21 at a news conference


Here is what Politifact Wisconsin says:

Walker’s claim he campaigned on all of this caught our attention -- and that of many readers, who have been e-mailing us asking us to check it out.

There is no dispute that Walker campaigned on getting concessions on health and pension benefits from state employees. And, to be sure, that is an important part of the measure.

But for Walker to be right, he has to be correct on the entirety of the plan. So we’ll look more deeply at the collective bargaining side of the equation, which has caused the ongoing firestorm in Madison.

Here is a summary of the changes:

For public employee unions except those covering public safety workers, the measure would narrow collective bargaining to wage issues, and only then within specific limits. It would end bargaining on such things as health care costs, pensions and working conditions -- rights granted to the public unions more than 50 years ago.

Additionally: Wage increases would be limited to inflation or less. Employees would be able to opt out of paying union dues. An annual certification vote on the existence of each union would be required. And public employers would be barred from withholding union dues from worker’s paychecks.

Walker’s proposal also repeals all rights to collective bargaining for more than 30,000 University of Wisconsin employees, something granted in 2009.

For this item, we reviewed dozens of news accounts and various proposals on Walker’s campaign website to determine what he said about collective bargaining during the campaign. We talked to both campaigns in the governor’s race, and union officials.

During the campaign, Walker prided himself on presenting many specific proposals to voters. Our Walk-O-Meter includes 60-plus specific promises. Indeed, his plans for the state Department of Natural Resources include at least seven specific elements, including appointment of a "whitetail deer trustee" to review deer counts.

But nowhere in our search did we find any such detailed discussion of collective bargaining changes as sweeping as Walker proposed.

We asked Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie to provide evidence that Walker raised those issues during the campaign.

"During the campaign he ran on giving local units of government the flexibility to manage their own budgets," Werwie said. "That is what he is continuing to say and do right now."

He gave one example: a Walker proposal in July, 2010 to allow local units of government to switch from health plans that have high premiums to the state’s lower cost employee health plan.

Walker’s camp said at the time that the switch would not have to be negotiated with unions; Walker would move to take the choice out of the collective bargaining process, they said. Labor officials disagreed and said they would fight attempts to change the collective bargaining law.

Werwie also pointed to a campaign flier circulated by the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, a union representing 17,000 public employees in the state.

In addition to criticizing Walker comments on benefit cuts, the AFT flier notes a Walker comment about freeing up local governments from being "strangled" by mediation. And it points out his comment on the health plan switch he proposed in July -- the one that would take the choice of health plans off the table for unions.

Both of those are part of collective bargaining and were discussed.

But they are a far cry from what was proposed.

For instance, during the campaign Walker talked about who controls the choice of health care providers. After the election he proposed eliminating any negotiations on the subject of health care.

Walker’s campaign proposal on mediation and arbitration offers a similar contrast:

He told the Appleton Post-Crescent in a lengthy question and answer session in 2009 that "you've got to free up local government officials to not be strangled by things like mediation and arbitration." As his website made clear, he was talking about a specific, significant change in teacher’s union arbitration -- not the dramatic changes on the table now.

His current plan would largely eliminate the dispute-settling function of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission for all but public safety employees, according to Peter Davis, WERC’s general counsel.

When it comes to the arbitration process, Davis characterized the changes Walker proposed in the campaign as a "hand grenade" and his proposal now as an "atom bomb."

Another example:

As the campaign rolled near a close, in late October 2010, Walker told the Oshkosh Northwestern that he would "ask all state workers" for wage and benefit concessions in the collective bargaining process.

After the election, he proposed imposing concessions without negotiating and eliminating benefits as a topic of collective bargaining.

Walker told the Oshkosh newspaper that if unions don’t give in on concessions, he would turn to furloughs to get cost savings.

The use of furloughs was the approach taken by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a fairly typical cost-savings tactic. After the election, Walker said he wanted to avoid furloughs in favor of the concessions on health and pension costs, and wanted to limit bargaining to wages.

Before the election Walker talked about seeking concessions in the context of face-to-face negotiations -- as in the Oshkosh Northwestern interview. He is moving to impose health and pension cost-sharing through legislation, without having taken his proposal to the unions.

He once talked about expanding a statewide cost control system -- using collective bargaining -- beyond teachers to all state employees. But now he proposes an approach that would let individual municipalities set their own benefit levels -- with little input from unions.

A reminder: We are not evaluating the merits of the proposal. Just what was discussed in the campaign.

In October, as Walker held a steady lead in opinion polls over his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, rumors circulated in union circles about Walker favoring a major power grab from unions.

That’s according to Richard Abelson, who heads District Council 48 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which had negotiated with Walker for eight years in his position as Milwaukee County executive.

Abelson, whose union endorsed Barrett, said: "We heard rumors he would remove pension and health as mandatory subjects of bargaining."

But at that time, nothing so direct was publicly stated.

Jeff Stone, a Republican state representative from Greendale, was the source of the notion, Abelson said. The two had a meeting as Stone laid the groundwork for a run for Walker’s soon-to-be-vacant county job.

Stone confirmed for us that he told Abelson before the election he thought Walker might propose the bolder course. He said Walker told him nothing; he guessed it from Walker’s emphasis on cost cutting and the deficits plaguing the state budget.

"This was the only way I could see he could do it," Stone said about balancing the state budget.

But the sweep of Walker’s eventual proposal caught even Stone off guard.

"Yeah, I was a little surprised (he put it all in)," Stone said. "But I also understand if you don’t control those things you will have trouble controlling costs."

Abelson, the union leader, said Walker’s February announcement of his plan "went far beyond what anybody thought he would do. He didn’t talk about it during the campaign. If he had said that, some people who supported him would have had some second thoughts."

Barrett’s campaign aide Gillian Morris also said they heard nothing in the campaign to suggest Walker would back sharp limits on union power -- and the repeal of all union rights for tens of thousands -- in his proposal.

Bryan Kennedy, president of AFT-Wisconsin, the union that distributed the flier warning about Walker’s labor record, said he figured Walker would try to weaken collective bargaining and privatize a lot of state jobs.

"But we were actually quite surprised by this," he said.

Immediately after the election, in mid-November, Walker successfully lobbied lawmakers not to approve labor contracts negotiated under the Jim Doyle administration.

Walker did not say he wanted to renegotiate them, nor did he say at that time that he had plans to lay aside those deals and impose changes without bargaining.

Let’s sum up our research.

Walker contends he clearly "campaigned on" his union bargaining plan.

But Walker, who offered many specific proposals during the campaign, did not go public with even the bare-bones of his multi-faceted plans to sharply curb collective bargaining rights. He could not point to any statements where he did. We could find none either.

While Walker often talked about employees paying more for pensions and health care, in his budget-repair bill he connected it to collective bargaining changes that were far different from his campaign rhetoric in terms of how far his plan goes and the way it would be accomplished.

We rate his statement False.

(Editor’s note: After this item was posted, a conversation surfaced between Walker and a person impersonating Walker campaign contributor and industrialist David Koch. In an audiotape released Feb. 23, 2011, Walker compares his union plan to a history-making act and portrayed his union plan as a "bomb."

Walker aides acknowledge the tape is real, but say Walker simply was saying privately what he has said publicly about his budget-repair bill.

Of a meeting with his cabinet, Walker in the tape says: We talked about what we were going to do, how we were going to do it. We had already built plans up. This was kind of the last hurrah before we dropped the bomb.")


When it comes to protesters in Madison, "almost all" are now from outside of Wisconsin.
Scott Walker on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 in a secretly-recorded prank telephone call


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker got right to the point when he was chatting Feb. 22, 2011, with a prank caller pretending to be a major Republican power-broker: The protests in Madison are dying down.

And changing to mostly out-of-state residents.

In the secretly-recorded call, Walker assured a New York blogger posing as industrialist David Koch -- a contributor to Walker’s campaign and many GOP causes -- that things were under control at the Capitol.

"Well, we’re actually hanging pretty tough," Walker said in the call, which was taped and made public Feb. 23, 2011. "I mean, you know, amazingly there’s a much smaller group of protesters almost all of whom are in from other states today."

We know Wisconsin is awful popular these days. And the battle over the budget-repair bill is national news. But are "almost all" of the protesters in from other states?

We asked Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie about the not-intended-for-the-world-to-hear statement from his boss.

He sent us two links to news stories from over the weekend -- one from the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, and another from the Decatur, Ill., newspaper.

Here’s what the Feb. 21, 2011, blog post in the Weekly Standard said: "Labor groups and Democratic Party organizations from outside the state have been sending people to Madison for the demonstrations."

It went on to note an e-mail from the Chicago Teachers Union, which said it was sending a bus Feb. 21, 2011, to Madison. The union’s twitter feed posted a message the evening of Feb. 19, 2011, saying: "CTU Supports Wisconsin Workers. Get on the bus Monday."

Meanwhile, the Decatur paper reported Feb. 22, 2011 -- the day Walker made his comment during the non-Koch call -- that Illinois union leaders were sending protesters to Wisconsin.

"A number of Illinoisans have headed to Madison in recent days to join the battle over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's effort to end collective bargaining for public employee unions," the paper reported.

"The Illinois Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, reports it has sent 14 staff members to Wisconsin to help organize members in their fight," the story said. It went on to say another union -- Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- "has a number of staff members on the ground" and was sending a two bus loads on Feb. 22, 2011 and one on Feb. 23, 2011.

OK, fair enough. That’s a few bus loads accounted for -- albeit not all on the day of Walker’s phone conversation. And, of course, there surely were other out-of-state protesters that day.

But "almost all"?

The crowds in Madison did drop on the day of the call. After several days of school district closings around the state due to teachers calling in sick to attend protests, the vast majority of teachers were back in the classroom. Milwaukee and Madison school districts reopened.

We did a little more investigating to learn: Who are these protesters?

Of course there’s no one checking ID cards, and no way to come up with a definitive percentage, but there are ways to gauge the makeup of such crowds.

The Journal Sentinel has had reporters and photographers on the scene day and night since the protest began. We looked at dozens of pictures from protests Monday night and Tuesday, taken by Journal Sentinel photographers (You can see some of these pictures here.)

We saw many signs and clothing that suggest Wisconsin protesters -- Badgers and Packers attire, a sign mentioning Janesville, signs mentioning the Madison teachers union and so forth. One man wore a T-shirt from the Shoe Box, a Madison-area store.

However, that man, Thomas Brown, is from New Mexico. He came back to visit family near Madison. We won’t count him as an out-of-state agitator.

We did see signs such as "Michigan Supports WI workers," and one that read "Coast to Coast Solidarity" that mentioned California and New York. On Feb. 23, 2011, when Teamsters President Jim Hoffa spoke, signs for Chicago Sheet Metal Workers were evident and there were Teamsters from other states present, according to news reports and Madison police.

We sent a Patrick Tricker, a reporter for the UW-Madison The Daily Cardinal, through the crowd the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2011. It was day two of the state Assembly’s marathon vote on Walker’s measure, which involved hundreds of Democratic amendments.

In an informal survey, Tricker spoke directly to 26 protesters in the Capitol rotunda. About a fourth of the 26 were from out of state, half from Madison and the remainder were from other parts of Wisconsin. He found one from California and one from Alaska.

That’s nowhere near "almost all."

Finally, we asked law enforcement for their take.

"The vast majority of people protesting are from here -- Wisconsin and even more from Dane County," said Joel DeSpain, public information officer for the Madison Police Department.

How would DeSpain know?

"I grew up here," said DeSpain, who attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked 25 years as a television journalist in that city before taking the job with the cops. "I know Madison, this is my town,"

DeSpain said he has seen friends, family members, people he has known for more than 30 years attending protests. The crowds on Feb. 22, 2011 -- the day of the Walker phone call -- included hundreds of state corrections officers and Madison police officers, he said.

Said DeSpain: "Unless somebody’s giving them all sorts of t-shirts from Wisconsin" these are local protesters.

Let’s bring this item home.

In his not-so-private phone call, Walker claimed protests were getting smaller and almost all of the protesters at the state Capitol were there from out of state. Certainly there are folks there from far and wide. But there’s no evidence the out-of-towners have taken over. All evidence points to this being -- and remaining -- a home grown effort.

We rate Walker’s statement False.

Patrick Tricker of The Daily Cardinal contributed to this report.

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