Monday, February 21, 2011

On, Wisconsin!

Another foot of snow fell yesterday and overnight, but that's not what this post is about.

Instead,it's about my response to the grotesque abrogation of workers' rights that Governor Scott Walker has proposed as a "fix" for Wisconsin's budget deficit. I don't want to expound on the bill itself (it's been done in other places: try Digby over at Hullabaloo for a really succinct version of what's led up to this point). See also Paul Krugman's opinion piece "Wisconsin Power Play" in today's New York Times.

Last Wednesday, I traveled to Madison to join in the protest, along with 30,000 of my close personal friends. It was amazing--so much positive, peaceful energy and a sense of common purpose drew people from all walks of life: teachers and pipefitters, nurses and firefighters (yes, even though the firefighters are exempt).

The American Federation of Teachers rep had arranged for a group of us to meet with our State Senator, He-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless. After several minutes of conflicting information updates, one of his Minions appeared. (It turned out that the Senators were caucusing off-site--out of fear of confrontation?) Four people were selected to speak (I was one of them). First went the Prof from the school just up the highway. Then I went.

The Minion looked like he'd rather be drinking bleach than listening to what I had to say:
  • The attack on collective bargaining does not solve the budget problem or create jobs.
  • This bill will make us even less competitive for quality professors than we are now (after 4 failed searches for a World Languages position, we finally found someone; now we've got the third Comm/Arts search in as many years). California may have some of the same problems, but at least it's got better weather.
  • Students have already told me that they are going to leave WI and take their brains and their earning power with them. Why would anyone want to be a teacher or nurse or corrections officer in this state if this is how we are going to be treated?
I finally had to tell the guy, "Write this down" because he was just sitting there. He kept reiterating that we have a $137 milllion shortfall, and this will fix it. Dumbass. Thanks for listening. We left the meeting angrier than we were when we got there.

I wish I had known what was reported in the Cap Times later that day--that the missing $137 million mysteriously happened right after Walker took office ( as of 1/31 the state was projected to have a balance of $121 million)--coinciding with $140 million in special interest spending he has approved in his first 6 weeks in office. This is not about balancing the budget--it's union busting, pure and simple. And both sides know it.

I do not mind paying a fair share. Neither does anyone I work with. However, we have been paying more than our fair share for a lot longer than is being reported by the mainstream media (on top of below-average salaries, our 2% raise that went POOF in the last biennial budget, along with a 3% reduction in pay that was categorized as "furlough" even though it was basically a giveback since most of my colleagues work 6 or 7 days a week anyway). And we do mind being professors on food stamps (at least 3 of my colleagues are the sole income for their families, and because our salaries are so low in the first place, they will qualify). 

I am OK for now--Hubby makes less than I do but we don't own a home, so our expenses can be managed (and we're mobile. Going back to Chicago looks pretty good right about now). Thing Two is now two, so his daycare isn't quite as expensive as it was before--but between his daycare expenses and my student loan payments, 1/3 of my take-home pay is gone every single month ($3600/mo for 9 mos = $32,400 in take-home. I owe $75,000 on my student loan debt, debt that I incurred for the express purpose of becoming a professor). I am seriously rethinking living in this state if this is how it wants to treat its public sector workers...and I'm not the only one.

At this point, despite the heartening daily increase in the number of protesters, I am not hopeful for a positive outcome. The Governor stubbornly refuses to even sit down with the representatives of public sector unions to discuss the issues, and he's confident that his bill will pass in spite of the 70,000 people protesting in Madison on an daily basis (70K on Saturday, anyway). 

My colleagues and I love our jobs--we love our students and we love helping them learn--but there has to be a limit to what we're expected to give. And after spending my entire adult life working towards tenure, I am forced to consider leaving a state I have come to love--because it's turning into a state I cannot love. It will not be a no-fault divorce--the blame will lie squarely with those voters whose values don't include a willingness to pay for quality education, or quality services period. They will get the state they're asking for, and I sure as hell don't want to live in it.

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