What’s up, Wisconsin? (5×8 – 2/25/11)

Exploring the exotic land, drama on line one, driving Mr. Yogi, Duluth… very fast, and a statistical breakdown of the Oscar nominees.

Quick note: I am burning up vacation time next week. A cast of tens will fill in for me here.


Other than football, a Minnesota-dweller’s view of Wisconsin is often a land of mystery. For a state that is only a half dozen miles from the metro’s border, news from the exotic land often doesn’t make it this far west. That all changed a couple of weeks ago with the battle over collective bargaining rights for public employee unions.

So this week, three MPR reporters hit three counties — three very different counties — along the border to see how the battle is being viewed outside of Madison.

Two of the dispatches are here. The third will be coming this afternoon on All Things Considered.

Meanwhile, in Madison overnight, the bill eliminating collective bargaining on non-wage issues passed the Assembly.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel issued an editorial this morning pointing out that there’s more in the bill here than just collective bargaining for public employees:

Those enrolled in the state’s BadgerCare Plus and Core plans, FamilyCare and SeniorCare and Medicaid for those with disabilities and the elderly could be affected.

There is a shortfall in the state’s health care efforts of $214 million this year and $1.8 billion over the next two years. But maintenance of care for the least vulnerable among us has to be a priority. Undue cuts to the Core program, in particular, would be disturbing.

The state persuaded Milwaukee County to give up its program to aid childless adults, taking on the responsibility itself. Walker, the former Milwaukee County executive, likely knows this. Even if the poverty level standards have changed, this is called bait and switch.

The state could also sell off its power plants.

News Cut reader Derek provides today’s discussion point:

It’s my understanding that the reason we have unions, at it’s core, is to keep a company fair when it comes to their treatment of employees. Unions can do this because they have large groups of people together that can bring a company to a halt if they don’t get their way. In this day and age doesn’t the Internet basically serve this purpose for free? If someone is being treated unfairly at their job, it seems like a well-worded post to Facebook or Twitter would have just as much, if not more, force behind it as a union, right? Do we need unions anymore?


For sheer drama, nothing beats this interview aired on All Things Considered last night. In the town square of Zawiya in Libya, a businessman on a cellphone was telling host Michelle Norris about the scene. Then machine guns started firing. Then a tank rolled by. And when the interview ended, the man said, “have a nice day.”

How many stories wouldn’t ever have been told if it wasn’t for the invention of the cellphone?


Winter has made a comeback this week so it’s more important than ever that we get a warm story from baseball’s spring training scene. The New York Times delivers with this story of the driver and valet for Yogi Berra. It’s Yankee great Ron Guidry. It’s too early in the baseball pre-season to expect me to already be in Yankee-hating mode. Worry not. It’ll come.


This film was just posted. A filmmaker staked out 20 spots around Duluth, and recorded time-lapse material at each spot:

It was apparently made for the Yeti Film Festival, which is underway (through today) at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

This is a weekend for film festivals. The Fargo Film Festival opens next Tuesday evening with the mockumentary, “The Lutefisk Wars.”


Stats guru Nate Silver has dusted off his method of predicting the Oscar winners. It’s not foolproof, but it’s hard to argue with it. He doesn’t properly explain, however, why Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) doesn’t win best supporting actress.

And all of that is fine, but aren’t Rosalie and Doris, the mothers of WCCO TV anchors, worthy of some award?

Bonus: This afternoon at 2:30 is the 2nd annual University of Minnesota snowball fight. Enjoyable pictures from the first one here.


Ten films are in contention to be named Best Picture Sunday night at the 83rd Academy Awards. What movie would you consider the best picture of 2010, and why?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Today’s manufacturing is more advanced and high-tech than old-fashioned production lines. But is America ready to support more training and innovation to align its available workforce with the manufacturing needs of our future?

Second hour: While staying at home to raise children has benefits that you can’t put a price on, it also has consequences. Midmorning looks at why many parents are penalized for that decision, and why work-family balance has become an urgent but elusive goal for millions of Americans.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: MPR special reports on the protests over government unions in Wisconsin, and a debate on this subject featuring two Minnesotans — Phil Krinkie of the Minnesota Taxpayers League and Eliot Seide of AFSCME.

Second hour: A new documentary from Stephen Smith and Kate Ellis of American RadioWorks: “Say it Loud: Great Speeches on Civil Rights and African American Identity.”

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: How cellphones affect your brain.

Second hour: Are we too fond of our devices?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – One of Wisconsin’s most rural counties helps define “America’s Dairyland” with small communities and lots of farms. The county was evenly split in the last election. How is the budget debate sounding in this sparsely populated county? MPR’s Elizabeth Baier will have the story.

The University of Minnesota is about to open a brand new children’s hospital. It has all the latest bells and whistles in terms of design — floor to ceiling windows, in suite bathrooms, pullout couches, large TV monitors in each room so kids can play computer games, connect with classmates and family members from afar and sunny, kid-friendly colors. Comforts like these used to be an afterthought for hospitals, but MPR’s Lorna Benson reports that today, they’re considered essential to a patient’s well-being. Some new design features are also making it easier for doctors and nurses to care for kids in their rooms.

  • LK

    // News Cut reader Derek provides today’s discussion point

    Public relations and worker rights are two different things.

  • Shannon

    With the billions backing corporate interests, the whole bargaining power of Facebook and Twitter seems like chump change.

  • Derek’s point assumes that all internal workplace disputes are best settled in public, which is obviously not true. It also assumes that the only function of a union is to raise a giant stink when things turn ugly, which is also not true.

    Union workplaces are just like other workplaces, except that a carefully designed system is put in place to lay out clearly a) what is expected of the unionized employees, and b) what disciplinary procedures can be utilized by the employer if those expectations are not met. It’s really no more sinister than that.

  • Drae

    About those WIsconsin state power plants – 8 of the plants are in violation of the Clean Air Act and they need millions in upgrades.

    Not quite so easy to sell.

  • Nancy

    The Michelle Norris interview from yesterday was quite amazing, with the “Have a nice day” caller being unarmed in an open area with gunfire in the background.

  • Derek

    @Sam Thanks for that. I will admit that I don’t know much about unions, having never worked in a unionized shop. If I’m reading you correctly a union is a way to ensure everyone at a particular company behaves in a civil manner towards each other and performs their job as excepted. It’s a pretty sad commentary on todays working environment that we need to pay into an organization to make sure that happens.

  • Heather

    “If someone is being treated unfairly at their job, it seems like a well-worded post to Facebook or Twitter would have just as much, if not more, force behind it as a union, right?”

    This seems terribly naive, Derek — (* edited *). You’ve certainly heard of people getting fired for online postings, haven’t you? And when have you heard of the public reacting against a company for treating a single employee unfairly? I’m going to guess that’s “never”.

    Sam’s post doesn’t say anything about a union being “a way to ensure everyone at a particular company behaves in a civil manner and performs their job as [expected].” That makes it sound like a union’s role is very focused on the interpersonal, rather than on the rules of engagement between the employer and the workers.

  • Jennifer

    I have family members who have worked in various levels of union leadership including negotiations, mediation, and governing boards. (And I have been a union member myself, though I no longer work in that industry.) One major reason that Twitter/Facebook would be an inadequate substitution for union representation is that contrary to their general portrayal as only dealing with wages and benefits, the union is often called in to assist its members in matters of contract violations by their employers. (I’ve known of instances that range from forcing employees to work extra hours without promised compensation to refusal to accomodate medical disabilities to not following established employee discipline protocols to unlawful termination.) These are legal matters that need to be settled as such. When a legal case is being considered, unchecked information flying around the court of public opinion usually does more harm than good.

  • Derek

    @Heather Perhaps I am being naive. Of course I have heard of people being fired for online postings. That would be a definite point in the unions favor; being able to voice your opinion without fear of reprisal. As I said I am not claiming to be an expert in union workings. Exactly the opposite.

    I am neither for nor against unions, I was simply wondering out loud whether a union has much relevance in a world where rallying large groups of people efficiently to a cause independent of any larger entity should be relatively easy. Although it seems that is the crux of the trouble in WI. Taking away a groups ability to speak as one.

    Thanks for the nice back and forth and for the typo correction.

  • Jim G

    Derek assumes that the employer cares about the words or content posted on the internet. If it’s powerless to affect their business, they don’t. Currently, Governor Walker is not listening to protesters, or massive media coverage, because he has assessed their harm and has decided he can weather the immediate storm. He’s hoping the people will forget his actions before the 2012 election. So, he has coldly decided to choose this political confrontation with the Democrats and the public unions. This is pure power politics. He’s showing Labor that he can do whatever he wants in the short term and the neither the Democrats nor the unions can change the outcome. By his reckoning “they can’t touch me.” Labor history is replete with corporations, business leaders, and government representatives abusing and vilifying workers. That’s why unions were originally started and why we still them. Governor Walker’s unilateral actions shows why we still need unions today.