How Scott Walker Could Bust Federal Employee Unions and Cut Feds’ Pay

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) Brennan Linsley/AP

Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., has made a name for himself by taking on public-sector employees.

If elected president, the second-term governor -- who officially announced his campaign Monday -- has promised to bring those victories to the federal level. 

Asked in 2011 about the legacy of his now career-defining “right-to-work” legislation, Walker said he hoped it would “ultimately inspire others across this country, state by state, and in our federal government.”

So what exactly did Walker do, and how could it impact the federal workforce if he succeeds in making his way to the White House?

Shortly after taking office as Wisconsin’s chief executive, Walker signed into law -- after a very public fight -- a bill that stripped most state and local employees of nearly all of their collective bargaining rights. Unions in the state can now only negotiate over base pay, though the salary increases are statutorily capped by inflation.

Federal employee unions cannot, of course, bargain over pay, which is determined annually by Congress and the president. They can, however, bargain over work conditions, something to which Wisconsin’s public employees are no longer entitled. Walker ignored that fact when promoting his plan compared to federal laws, saying Wisconsin state employees still have it better than feds.

“Contrary to what the Obama administration would lead you to believe, most employees of the federal government do not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits,” Walker wrote in a 2011 op-ed. “That means the budget reform plan we signed into law in Wisconsin on Friday is more generous than what President Obama offers federal employees.”

Walker also voiced how he might plan to expand provisions of his public sector overhaul in a speech in Iowa earlier this year.

“You can hire and fire whoever you want,” Walker said of busting up Wisconsin’s teachers unions. “You can pay based on performance.”

Another major piece of Walker’s signature reforms prohibits public-sector unions from mandating employees pay fees into their organization. Federal employee labor groups are already prohibited from requiring this fee, but are entitled to the practice of “official time,” which allows union leaders to conduct union work while collecting federal salaries and working in a federal workspace. Republican lawmakers have for years attempted to chip away at official time, and given his record on public unions, those crusaders could find a champion in Walker.

After all, the newest Republican presidential contender has not minced words about his ultimate intentions.

“The first step is, we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public-­employee unions,” Walker told a donor in a conversation captured in a 2011 documentary, “because you use divide-­and-conquer.”

Union reforms would not hit the federal workforce as hard as other public-sector workers. Just 27.5 percent of federal employees were union members as of 2014, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to 30 percent of state workers across the country and 42 percent of municipal employees. If Walker brings another element of his civil service reforms to the national level, however, his presidency could affect all federal employees, not just those in unions. 

In what perhaps received less national attention, Walker cut the benefits and take-home pay for state and local employees in Wisconsin. Under his budget law, public-sector workers went from contributing nothing to their pension funds to doling out half of the annual payments. In 2015, this meant state and local employees paid 6.8 percent of their salaries toward their pensions. Currently, all federal employees hired after 2013 pay 4.4 percent of their salaries toward their Federal Employees Retirement System accounts.

Walker also required Wisconsin’s state workers to pay for at least 12 percent of their health insurance premiums, double the percentage they were previously paying. Taken together, the health care and retirement changes required public-sector employees to contribute $3.03 billion more toward their benefits from 2011 through 2014.

In his 2015 state of the state, Walker emphasized his goal is not to disparage the role of government entirely, but simply to find “common-sense solutions” while reducing “bureaucratic red tape.”

“As taxpayers, we should demand that the functions that government must reasonably do, it should do well,” Walker said. “We should demand a government that is more effective, more efficient, and more accountable to the public.”

In the coming months, look out for Walker to explain exactly where those efficiencies will come at the federal level. 

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