Gov. Scott Walker Stands with Union Members...But Which Ones?

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 25, 2012 2 min read
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Kudos to Dave Jamieson at the Huffington Post and others for picking up a good storyline out of nationwide uproar over the National Football League’s replacement referees, after the controversial defeat of the Green Bay Packers by the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, who is surrounded by voters with perhaps the most distinctive headgear in the nation, called for the return of the regular referees, who are members of a union, the NFL Referees Association.

Walker, of course, is famous for his support of the state’s Act 10, introduced in 2011 and designed to weaken collective bargaining rights from most public-sector workers, including public school teachers. The legislation was billed as an effort to reduce the state’s budget deficit. Many unionized workers vigorously protested the law, which was eventually passed, but is now being challenged in court.

On Tuesday morning, Walker tweeted, “At a meeting of other Governors this a.m., everyone was talking about bad call in #Packers game on #MNF.” In another tweet, he called the result of the Packers game “painful” and employed the hashtag #returntherealrefs. Now, that’s not exactly a cry of “Solidarity Forever!” in support of the referees’ union per se. But various Twitter users, such as left-leaning Michael Tomasky at Newsweek/Daily Beast, promptly jumped down Walker’s throat and blasted him for hypocrisy in supporting a unionized group of employees. But the NFL, of course, is a $9 billion member of the private sector, unlike Wisconsin teachers, making the politics of the situation different.

Remember also that public sector unions for firefighters and law enforcement officers in Wisconsin supported Walker, although they were not subject to Act 10’s provisions. So Walker doesn’t have a troubled relationship with all public sector unions, and vice versa.

A major spat between the referees and the NFL is over pension benefits, which was also part of the fight over Act 10. Wisconsin’s collective bargaining reform through Act 10 requires teachers to contribute 50 percent of their pension costs, roughly 5.8 percent of their earnings (previously their employers picked up all payments into their pension funds). The NFL, meanwhile, wants referees to move from a defined-benefit retirement plan (a pension) to a defined-contribution plan (a 401k), but the “zebras” are balking, reporter Albert Breer wrote on Monday.

It’s rare when governors, football and education policy overlap, but when they do, it would be irresponsible not to highlight it.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.