Wis. Senator Against Collective Bargaining For Teachers

Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman sits on Wisconsin's Education Committee and supports the bill that limited collective bargaining rights for public workers in his state. He says teachers are more upset than others about the bill, but some teachers are elated. He speaks with guest host Jacki Lyden.

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JACKI LYDEN, host: Now, we want to look at the other side of the collective bargaining fight in Wisconsin from the standpoint of lawmakers. Joining us is Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman. He's represented the 20th Senate District in Wisconsin since 2004. He voted for the budget repair bill in March. That, among other things, took away most collective bargaining rights from public workers. Senator Grothman, welcome to the program.

State Senator GLENN GROTHMAN: Glad to be on the show.

LYDEN: So, senator, the bill that Republican Governor Scott Walker introduced to Wisconsin lawmakers in February wasn't just about unions' rights. Tell us briefly what this bill is about.

GROTHMAN: Oh, I think it improved the quality of government throughout the state and particularly with regard to schools. Wisconsin had a very onerous mediation arbitration law, which affected collective bargaining and caused both the cost of our government and even more the quality of our government to be lower than it should be.

I have, over the weekend, received several comments from teachers who are elated and admittedly they're in the minority, but I think they're some of the hardest working teachers who are elated at what Governor Walker did. To quote one teacher who I ran across, he said, we're finally able to get rid of the dead wood. And in Wisconsin, like a lot of other states, it was very difficult to get rid of an underperforming teacher. It's like the schools were operated for the benefit of the teachers not the children.

LYDEN: So, what did collective bargaining rights have to do with paying more toward pensions and health care?

GROTHMAN: They're too a little bit related but a little bit different problems. Under Wisconsin, we had one of the most generous pensions in the country for not just teachers but all public employees, including myself as a state legislator.

Until this point, Wisconsin was one of two or three states in the country in which the public employees had to contribute nothing towards their own pension. And we are now going to ask public employees to contribute towards half of that and that is a reduction in take-home pay.

I, personally, am going to be looking at a reduction of take-home pay of about 10 percent, and I think a lot of other public employees are going to see that. We have to realize the economy is tough. And to have people like myself or the teachers contribute towards our pension should not be that outrageous.

LYDEN: Senator Grothman, when this fight of a collective bargaining got started, teachers got a lot of attention in the media as an example of overspending on public workers. And that really fueled the fight and this certainly has been a divisive fight between public workers, teachers and lawmakers. You're on the Education Committee, so what's your reaction to this conflict and attitude, this bitter attitude?

GROTHMAN: Oh, I don't think it's bitter for everybody. It does seem, among public employees, teachers are more upset than others. But these provisions affect county workers, city workers, university workers, state workers. It just seems as though the teachers are more upset than others. And not all teachers are upset. I haven't heard people say that teachers are overpaid. Just that it's time that they pay something towards their pension and health insurance like other people.

LYDEN: You've just heard a teacher who said she hopes things work out in her district. Do you think teachers have the right to be angry?

GROTHMAN: No. I think everybody in our economy is sometimes asked to get a little bit less in compensation and sometimes asked to work more efficiently. Apparently, Fond du Lac is one of those school districts where teachers were not required to stay in school eight hours a day. Well, now, they're going to say, look, you're a professional. You're making maybe more than $60,000 a year with one of the best pensions in the country, you're expected to be in school for eight hours.

LYDEN: Last week, the Associated Press reported that nearly 5,000 Wisconsin teachers retired since the beginning of the year and that's more than half of the number from 2010. It's not a great way to start the year. Could the Republicans who passed this bill have done a better job of talking about it?

GROTHMAN: Well, I'm trying to talk about it right now. I will point out that at least one of the reasons why more teachers are retiring - we have heard anecdotal evidence that some of the worst teachers not waiting around for the inevitable and finally deciding it's time to retire. And I think some of those teachers who shouldn't have been there all along realized that without collective bargaining their time is up.

I think some other teachers are retiring because the union has created a fear in them, an unnecessary fear. And I think those teachers who are retiring prematurely for that reason are going to regret it because these are very nice jobs. And I think a year from now, most of these teachers are going to feel their life hasn't changed.

And like I said, a lot of the teachers I talked to are looking forward to the day when they can teach without that dead weight around the schools.

LYDEN: Wisconsin Senator Glenn Grothman represents the state's 20th Senate District, that's in West Bend, Wisconsin. And he joined us from NPR member station, WUWM in Milwaukee. Thank you very much for coming in.

GROTHMAN: I love to be on your show.

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