Gov. Scott Walker has said he wants to eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public employees in part to give local governments and school boards the authority to make unilateral adjustments to pensions and other benefits.
As he said at his press conference last Friday, "To protect our schools, to protect our local governments, we need to give them the tools they've been asking for, not just for years but for decades."
But local governments and school officials have asked for no such thing.
"Our position is we've sought significant modifications in bargaining laws, but we've never sought to eliminate collective bargaining rights," says Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.
In fact, the association, which represents almost all of the state's 424 school districts, doesn't want to do away with collective bargaining.
Turner says doing so "would create a very problematic work environment because right now we have an established system and everyone knows how the systems works and there's a comfort with everyone having a seat at the table. If you take that away, it leads to an uncertain work environment, that could lead to strikes."
Officials representing associations of municipalities and counties similarly say while they have asked for more flexibility in contract negotiations, they've never asked for collecting bargaining to be scrapped.
"The governor gave us a great deal more flexibility than we asked for," says Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, which represents 190 cities and 393 villages.
While the League hasn't had time enough to take a position on the governor's proposal, Thompson says, "I think I have some members who are very supportive. I have others who think the government's gone too far and it will cause labor problems."
The League has asked the state for eight reforms (pdf) to collective bargaining, in particular allowing greater employee contributions to health and retirement plans.
Local officials also believe any cuts must be made uniformly among all employees. "The governor's proposal thinks police and fire should be treated differently," notes Thompson. "Virtually every municipal official thinks that's a mistake."
Thompson says many officials fear Walker's bill could have an unintended affect. It limits wage increases to the cost of living, but to all public employees, not just unionized ones. "There are times when we have some difficulty filling technical jobs that were never unionized," he says. "We do need to compete with the private sector."
Similarly, the Wisconsin Counties Association has asked for more power, but not to the extent Walker has proposed, says executive directorthose positions in the early '90s "thinking that it would be done in the context of collective bargaining."
Some county officials worry the affect the changes might have on employee morale. Many are divided.
"One of the things that I've heard is these tools are being provided to locals to meet the budget cuts that are coming," O'Connell says. "But we don't know what the budget cuts are. Maybe we need these tools; maybe we need other ones. I don't know."