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Public employees: convenient scapegoats

BY GUEST OPINION | MARCH 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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I’m sure I’m not alone in my amazement that the protests in Wisconsin are continuing for the 13th day, spreading to other states, and holding the attention of the mainstream media all the while.
After reading Natalie Ginty’s guest opinion in the Feb. 25 Daily Iowan, one might wonder why this matters. If only Wisconsin’s teachers and public employees would stop acting like spoiled, petulant children, realize that we all have to make sacrifices in these tough times, and go back to work, the problem would be solved — right?

Wrong. What’s going on in Wisconsin is not about the budget. If it were, this hullabaloo would be long over. Public employees in Wisconsin are committed to fiscal soundness, as evidenced by the concessions they have offered in agreeing to pay more for their pension and health-insurance plans than they had originally bargained for. So why do the protests continue?

Because the Wisconsin GOP has declared war on the state’s hard-working public employees and their families. Bashing public employees has almost become par for the course, whether it be in Washington, D.C., Madison, or even Des Moines. Republicans seem to think government workers have become accustomed to the cushy deals offered by their unions and are unwilling to do their part to help the state by paying a little more.

The protests continue because Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is trying to take away the rights of the working people of Wisconsin. They agreed to meet him halfway, but he insists on using this budget debate as a vehicle to destroy unions and thereby take away workers’ rights to bargain on benefits and working conditions. I agree with Ginty that the comparisons of Wisconsin with the events in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya are unfair, but they are similar in one regard: In both the Mideast and the Midwest, people are fighting for their rights.

What is perhaps most upsetting to me about the whole situation, however, is the stunning lack of appreciation Ginty and others have for the public-school system that educated them.

Sure, in the abstract, it’s easy to paint teachers and other public workers as people who do the bare minimum and live off the taxpayer’s dime, ever so glad to take a week off of work to fight for more money. But it’s harder to make this argument when you realize that these greedy public employees are our teachers and nurses and bus drivers. I don’t think a single graduate of West High, Ginty included, would claim that Mr. Herman, Mr. Thelander, and Ms. Barnhouse are not hard-working or that they get too much appreciation and compensation for what they do.

Our society could not function without our public-school system and the teachers who dedicate their lives to it. In Iowa, we are lucky to have some of the best public-school teachers there are.

The protests in Wisconsin will continue for who knows how long, but this abusive rhetoric toward our teachers and other public employees has to stop. It is time to quit this anti-union political posturing, start appreciating the teachers who got us where we are today, and stand in solidarity.

Allie Panther is a UI senior.


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