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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has tried to sprinkle sugar on what many government workers see as the bitter pill he’s proposing in his controversial budget-repair bill.
Let’s see if what he is sprinkling is as sweet as he says it is.
For many state and local government workers, losing collective bargaining power is the bitter pill. The bill also would require most public employees to pay more for pensions and health insurance.
The hit would be $5,400 per year for a state employee who earns the average wage -- $50,000 -- and chooses the least-expensive family plan for health insurance, Walker’s administration says.
The sugar, at least the way the Republican governor presents it, is in another provision of the bill. It would prohibit union dues from being withheld from public employees’ paychecks. That means state and local government workers would have to pay their unions directly.
According to Walker, if workers opt out of the union, they could save a fair amount of money.
On Feb. 20, 2011, on the "Fox News Sunday" program, Walker said "for those workers who don't want to be a part of the union, if you don't want that deduction each month out of the paycheck, they should be able to get that $500, $600 or in some cases, $1,000 back that they can apply for their health care and their pension contribution."
Walker made a similar statement three days earlier on Fox television’s "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren." And Washington Post columnist George Will wrote that Walker told him that many employees could save $500 or $600 per year in union dues and that teachers could save up to $1,000.
Let’s find out if the governor’s figures are correct.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie sent us a document that he said came from the state payroll department. Payroll would know the amount of union dues for state workers, since it withholds them from state workers’ paychecks.
The document indicates that annual union dues are as low as $208 for certain legal employees and $300 for apprentice sheet metal workers; dues are as high as $3,180 for plasterers and $3,465 for plumbers.
The exact range, however, could be different because dues for some employees are a percentage of their pay, and the document does not spell out those amounts. Moreover, the document does not specify how many employees pay the various dues amounts that are listed, and it does not provide any averages. We asked Werwie for more information, but he had not responded by publication time.
So, we contacted some of the major public employee unions to ask what their members pay annually in dues. Our list is not comprehensive, but it does cover tens of thousands of state and local government workers.
Most of the 23,000 state workers who are members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 24 pay $420 per year in union dues, though some pay $492, said Bob Allen, spokesman for AFSCME-Wisconsin.
They tend to be "front-line" workers such as correctional officers, administrative support staff, probation and parole officers and custodians, he said.
Members of Local 1914 -- one of the units of Council 24 -- pay $470 per year, according to the dues page on that local’s website. Those 300 members are state employees in Eau Claire, Chippewa, Rusk, Clark and Taylor counties, and hold non-academic jobs at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Members of AFT-Wisconsin who earn over $34,000 per year pay about $510 per year in dues, said president Bryan Kennedy. AFT says it represents 17,000 public workers in 500 different classifications.
Health care workers
Annual dues for the 15,000 members of the Professional Patient Care Unit of Service Employees Union International range from about $192 for home care workers to $864 or more for senior nurses, said president Dian Palmer.
Milwaukee Public Schools teachers paid $995 in dues in 2010, while educational assistants who worked more than 20 hours per week paid $469, according to the figures from the website of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.
That union says it represents more than 8,200 employees, including 6,000 teachers.
Green Bay public school teachers pay $834 in dues, said Lori Blakeslee, spokeswoman for the Green Bay Education Association.
The typical Wisconsin teacher who belongs to the state’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, pays $450 per year for the state and national portions of their dues, said WEAC spokeswoman Christina Brey. But the additional amount in local dues paid varies and Brey said she did not know what the range is. Both Milwaukee and Green Bay belong to WEAC.
Let’s return to the statement.
In pushing his budget-repair bill, Walker said state and local government workers could stop paying union dues and take home $500 to $1,000 more per year in pay. He didn’t say most or many, but his statement suggests that a significant number of public employees pay dues in that range. And we found thousands of public employees who do.
We rate Walker’s claim Mostly True.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin as ground zero: governor serene amid storm," Feb. 21, 2011
FoxNews.com, "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" video and transcript, Feb. 17, 2011
FoxNews.com, "Fox News Sunday" transcript, Feb. 20, 2011
Interview, Professional Patient Care Unit of Service Employees Union International president Dian Palmer, March 4, 201
Interview and e-mail interview, AFT-Wisconsin president Bryan Kennedy, March 3 and 4, 2011
E-mail interview, Gov. Scott Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie, March 3 and 4, 2011
Interview, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees-Wisconsin spokesman Bob Allen, March 4, 2011
Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association website, union dues page and fact sheet page
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1914 website, dues page and about page
E-mail interview, Green Bay Education Association assistant director/communications specialist Lori Blakeslee, March 7, 2011
Walker administration memo, Feb. 17, 2011
Governor’s office, union dues document
Interview, Wisconsin Education Association Council spokeswoman Christina Brey, March 7, 2011
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