Proposal affects UWEC

Story by Briana Gruenewald

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed bill to end collective bargaining and require state employees to pay more for their insurance and retirement benefits has received strong reactions from UW-Eau Claire faculty and academic staff, as well as students.

“My only strength would be in the ability to collectively bargain and Scott Walker said that he’s taking the right to collectively bargain for anything except salary,” said communication and journalism professor Kelly Jo Wright. “Well, there’s no money for salary, so it doesn’t give me any bargaining power — it doesn’t give us any bargaining power — which is incredibly upsetting to me.”

Wright expressed her concern that the bill would also harm her financially. Under the proposed bill, state employees would be required to pay about 5 percent of their salary to the retirement system and eight to 12 percent for insurance premiums.

Limited term employees, who make up much of the faculty and staff at Eau Claire, would see a complete stripping of their benefits.

“If LTEs don’t get benefits, they’re all going to find jobs elsewhere,” Wright said. “We literally won’t have enough faculty to staff the classes we need to staff.”

American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin Lead Organizer Julie Schmid echoed Wright’s apprehensions.

“What (the proposal) could have the effect of doing is it makes it harder to recruit new faculty and academic staff. It also makes it harder to retain the good quality faculty and staff that Eau Claire already has,” Schmid said. “Basically it’s a brain drain on the institution.”

Student Senate Finance Director and College Republicans treasurer Jacob Kampen largely supports the bill. He says the cuts, while they will entail some sacrifice for state employees, are a better alternative to permanently laying state employees off.

Kampen also said the private sector has been hit hard recently, with companies closing, laying people off and cutting hours and pay.

“So it’s just a logical extension as the private sector has been making less money, tax revenues have gone down and we just can’t keep up with the status quo of paying state employees at the level we were,” Kampen said.

Many are concerned with the abruptness of the bill, including psychology professor Allen Keniston. He said what’s missing from this proposal is the ability for interested and concerned parties to discuss and negotiate the proposal.

“It’s really hard to understand why there wouldn’t be a more sincere and appropriate intent to engage people to ask ‘what can you give up to help your state?’” he said.

Schmid agrees, adding that the proposal “takes away a voice (UW faculty and staff) have in the workplace.”

“One of the things to keep in mind about this is Walker said he needs to do this to balance the budget,” Schmid said. “Unionized employees recognize that the economy is not great and they have over and over again indicated to the governor that they’re willing to come to the table and negotiate. He’s refusing to do that.”