Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 23
Right-to-work offers little for Wisconsin's economy
Wisconsin may soon become the 25th right-to-work state. Republicans in the state Senate have the votes — and there is little Democrats can do to stop the train. It's left the station. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) have called an extraordinary session to take up the labor legislation this week and next. It's likely both houses will pass the legislation. After being firmly non-committal during last year's campaign, Gov. Scott Walker now has pledged to sign it.
But will Wisconsin be better off as a right-to-work state?
There is no compelling evidence that it will be and plenty of evidence that the working class may, in the end, suffer as a result of what the GOP is contemplating.
The Republicans will make three arguments: Workers should have freedom to choose whether they join a union; right-to-work legislation will boost jobs and the state's economy; Wisconsin will be at a competitive disadvantage if it doesn't adopt right-to-work.
But it's more likely that working class wages will take a hit as private sector unions, already weak, grow weaker still. Right-to-work laws ban labor deals in the private sector that require workers to pay union dues.
This train is being driven by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, a group heavily weighted toward manufacturing, where union membership still hovers around 15 percent of the workforce — far greater than labor's penetration in other sectors of the economy. Republicans, no doubt, also sense a chance to weaken organized labor, a traditional constituency of the Democrats.
To the GOP's arguments:
— Freedom to choose. Right-to-work does allow workers to choose whether to pay union dues — and in the process creates an enormous "free rider" problem for unions. If you can get the benefits without paying, people often choose not to pay. So freedom for whom? Workers or management, which wants to be free of unions? Is WMC, the state's largest business lobby, really looking out for the little guy? Doubtful.
— Jobs and the economy. There is very little evidence to prove that right-to-work laws in other states are responsible for economic growth. Many factors affect an economy's performance, and it's nearly impossible to separate out the effects. If anything, right-to-work states may have lower wages on average than states without such laws, according to a study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute in 2011. And even if right-to-work laws do boost the number of businesses in a state, the gains may not go to workers. Lonnie Stevans of Hofstra University found in his 2007 study that average wages went down. Stevans concluded that "although right-to-work states may be more attractive to business this does not necessarily translate into enhanced economic verve in the right-to-work state if there is little 'trickle-down' from business owners to the non-unionized workers."
— Wisconsin must adopt right-to-work because nearby states have it. Despite the declarations of the cheerleaders, right-to-work isn't at the top of the list for companies looking to make a move. Other factors are much more important, including the availability of a trained workforce, energy costs, transportation networks, the state's educational system and taxes. Wisconsin does not need right-to-work to be competitive.
This move by Fitzgerald and Vos to fast-track right-to-work legislation through the Legislature is all about the use of raw political power to defeat a political opponent. It has very little, if anything, to do with the state's economy and the well-being of its citizens.
Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 25
Tammy Baldwin should come clean on firing of aide
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin has lawyered up in Washington, D.C.
We'd rather she level with her constituents here in Wisconsin.
The Madison Democrat was slow to respond, at least publicly, to complaints about the Veterans Affairs medical center in Tomah.
The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed in January that VA doctors were prescribing so many narcotic painkillers that some veterans called the Tomah center "Candy Land." Opiate prescriptions at the Tomah VA more than quintupled despite fewer veterans seeking care, and three died.
"They had my boy on so many meds that it blew his mind," said Marvin Simcakoski, whose son Jason died of an overdose. "They like people to be zombies over there so they don't have to care for them."
Baldwin and others Wisconsin leaders called for action after the news report.
Then USA Today discovered Baldwin's office had known about the problems at the Tomah facility since last summer, when her office received a copy of an internal inspection report. A former Tomah VA employee and whistleblower had been trying to get Baldwin to call for an investigation.
She didn't do that publicly until months later after media attention. The senator wrote a guest column in the State Journal last month acknowledging her office "should have done a better job" of listening and communicating, and "I take full responsibility for any mistakes we made."
What her column didn't say is she had fired a top aide and offered her a financial package with a confidentiality clause. Baldwin also is letting a top political lawyer in Washington speak for her on the matter. The amount of money offered to Baldwin's former staffer, Marquette Baylor, to leave quietly is still secret.
Baylor, who rejected the payout deal, is contemplating suing Baldwin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, for wrongful firing or sexual discrimination.
What a mess.
A congressional hearing is now being scheduled on the deaths and heavy medication prescribed at the Tomah VA, the Associated Press reported Friday. No date and time have been announced, but the hearing will be in Tomah.
State and federal officials are investigating. The Republican Party of Wisconsin has filed an ethics complaint against Baldwin.
Baldwin's poor handling of the issue is a minor concern compared to the need for veterans to receive responsible care. Still, Baldwin's constituents deserve to know the details of how much she offered her staffer and why.
It's not just a personnel issue, as Baldwin's high-powered lawyer suggests. It's a public issue that demands more transparency.
The Journal Times of Racine, Feb. 24
State AG helps fill gap in drug collection
One of the nasty realities of local governments setting up programs that rely on federal funding is that the support sometimes evaporates.
The feds giveth and the feds taketh away.
That's what happened with the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act which was passed in 2010. It was a stopgap measure until federal regulations were changed. Under it, the Drug Enforcement Administration started to conduct drug take-back events to help local law enforcement agencies dispose of unused prescription drugs.
But last fall, when the federal regulations were changed, the DEA said it would no longer provide the support, which was aimed both at keeping drugs like opiates off the black market and protecting water resources from being tainted by old drugs flushed away.
That left many communities in the lurch after they had set up collection boxes at police stations or conducted collection days, then relied on the DEA help for disposal and coordination.
New Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel stepped up earlier this month to close that gap and help communities around the state continue the program — with state help.
Was there a need? Judging by the collection results from a September drug take-back drive in Wisconsin, the answer is yes. Across the state, the take-back collected some 17 tons — that's right, tons — of unused prescription medications. That made Wisconsin one of the highest participating states in the country.
Schimel said: "With the opiate epidemic devastating families and communities across our state, we must work together to remove unused prescription drugs from circulation. They need to be collected and destroyed."
Schimel said the state Department of Justice would help ease the financial burden on local communities by helping to conduct at least two statewide drug take-back collections this year, the first of which is to take place in May. The DOJ is to work with municipalities to conduct more collections if they are warranted.
Schimel deserves credit for stepping up when the federal program faltered. Now we would hope our congressional delegations would shake the trees and look for ways to restore federal support in coming years.
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