Nation’s unions lost big in the Wisconsin showdown

Daily News Article   —   Posted on June 7, 2012

Gov. Scott Walker celebrates his definitive victory Tuesday in Wisconsin's recall election.

(from an Associated Press report at ChicagoTribune.com) – …Instead of ejecting the Republican who [reduced] state and local government workers’ job benefits and bargaining rights, the union-led recall has made Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker a heroic model for conservatives five months before the November election. [Public sector unions are unions for government employees including teachers, postal workers and civil servants.]

“I think it’s bad news for the labor movement,” said John Russo, a labor studies professor at Youngstown State University. “It gives the impression they are not as strong as they once were, which they are not.”

Labor leaders maintain that the fight was worth it, that the massive protests against Walker and bitter divisions it created will make other governors and legislators think twice before making similar forays against unions.

But Walker’s victory is encouraging Republicans in other states to push ahead with their own efforts to [reign in] unions’ power and [reduce some of] the benefits gained for their members over the years.

GOP lawmakers in states such as Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and New Hampshire are likely to push harder for right-to-work legislation or other measures that restrict automatic union dues collection. [NOTE: right to work laws in a state allow union members to opt out of paying union dues.]

No labor fight had so captivated Americans since President Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 air traffic controllers for illegally striking in 1981, a move that encouraged businesses to take tougher stands against unions and helped precipitate [bring about] a steep decline in union membership.

“I consider it bigger than the air traffic controllers,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “I think it’s going to embolden employers in bargaining and discourage workers from joining unions. I think it’s hitting unions on all fronts.”

Republicans in some states near Wisconsin are paying attention.

“Not only is there the momentum in favor of the kinds of reforms that Governor Walker advocated for and got passed, but there becomes a competitive issue,” said Minnesota state Sen. Dave Thompson, a Republican who’s sponsoring an amendment to his state’s Constitution to make Minnesota a right-to-work state.

“It becomes harder for places like Minnesota to compete economically with states that make positive reforms that benefit the business climate and make life easier on taxpayers,” Thompson said.

In Missouri, state Sen. Dan Brown is hoping the Wisconsin recall results will encourage the legislature’s large, yet reluctant GOP majorities to move forward next year with bills limiting some union powers. Brown wants to pare back mandatory wages on public works projects and halt the [automatic, involuntary] deduction of union dues from public employee paychecks by requiring annual written authorization.

After Republicans swept to power in dozens of state legislatures in 2010, unions have spent millions battling anti-labor measures across the country. They were already smarting this year after Indiana became the first state in a decade to pass right-to-work legislation and Michigan banned automatic [involuntary] deduction of union dues from teacher paychecks.

Their loss in Wisconsin far overshadowed the unions’ biggest political win in the past year, when Ohio voters last November struck down in a referendum a law pushed by Republican Gov. John Kasich curbing collective bargaining rights for public workers. …

…The turnout effort [in Wisconsin] fell short of producing the unions’ hoped-for results. Exit polls showed voters from union households breaking 63 percent to 37 percent for Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. That’s virtually the same as in the 2010 governor’s race, even though union households represented a [larger] share of the electorate this time.

Walker had convinced his Republican [majority] legislature that limiting collective bargaining rights and making union members pay more for their health coverage and pensions was necessary to plug a $3.6 billion state budget shortfall. Labor leaders claimed he also wanted to cripple unions by banning automatic [involuntary] dues deduction for public employees.

Since the new Wisconsin law took effect, nearly half of its members in the state have left the state’s second largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME], according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press. The documents show that between March 2011 and February 2012, Wisconsin membership in AFSCME dropped from 63,577 to 34,942.

As national union membership has dwindled to just 11.8 percent of the workforce, the one growth area in recent years has been among teachers, firefighters and other government employees. Public sector workers now represent more than half of all union members. …

Michigan Rep. Mike Shirkey, a Republican who backed a new law prohibiting schools from deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks, said the Walker victory provides “additional spine-stiffening” for lawmakers looking at challenging union leaders.

“It basically puts some wind in our sail to continue down the road that we’ve already been on to advance free-market principles across the economy of Michigan, including in the behavior and performance of union leadership,” Shirkey said.

Unions in Michigan are already trying to gather enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot this November that would amend the state constitution to prohibit the right-to-work laws they fear Republicans will pass.

In New Hampshire, Republicans were unable to override Democratic Gov. John Lynch’s veto of a right-to-work measure last year. But Lynch is not running for re-election this year, and a victory by conservatives could revive that effort.

In New Mexico, Walker’s victory could embolden Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s effort to limit that state’s collective bargaining law. Through legal action, she has won control of a board that oversees public worker contract disputes.

And in Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad, two seats shy of a GOP lock on the legislature, said he would propose requiring state workers, some who pay nothing toward their health insurance, to shoulder 20 percent of their premiums.

“Every state’s situation’s a little different … but we kind of follow what each other is doing, and I’ve been inspired,” Branstad said.

Associated Press.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from ChicagoTribune.com.

Questions

1.  Define the following:

  • GOP
  • public workers, public-sector workers
  • collective bargaining
  • right to work, right to work laws

2.  How does labor studies professor John Russo view Governor Scott Walker’s victory against the union’s attempted recall?

3.  How are union (labor) leaders responding to the failure of the attempted recall? (see para.3)

4.  How is Gov. Walker’s victory likely to affect other states’ attempts to reduce the power of public sector unions? (see para. 5-7, 9-11, 21-24)

5.  a) Why did Gov. Walker originally make the changes to Wisconsin law that limited collective bargaining and required union members to pay more for their health coverage and pensions?
b)  This strategy did what the Governor said it would do.  Was it worth it for the citizens of Wisconsin?

6.  Why do you think almost half of AFSCME’s members left the union (and therefore no longer had to pay union dues) after Gov. Walker’s law passed?

7.  Do you think government employees need a union to represent them?  Explain your answer.


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Background

From an editorial by Rich Lowry at nypost.com:

The case against Walker failed largely for two reasons. First, the public unions [unions for government employees] weren’t defending rights, but privileges. There is nothing written in stone that says public-sector [government] workers must have collective-bargaining rights (they don’t at the federal level); that the state must collect dues for the unions (other organizations don’t get that benefit); that members of government unions must pay only 0.2 percent of their wages into their pensions and 6 percent of their health-care premiums (far below the averages in the private sector).

Second, the reforms worked. School districts took advantage of their new flexibility under the Walker reforms to achieve significant savings. In an irony that says much about last night’s outcome, Walker’s opponent, Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, himself used the reforms to save an estimated $10 million for his city.

No wonder that by the end, Barrett was hitting Walker on everything but the changes that precipitated the recall in the first place.

Yesterday’s vote may be remembered as the death rattle of public-sector unions in the state that first created them. The Wall Street Journal reports that union membership has already steeply declined. The Wisconsin chapter of AFSCME has shrunk from 62,818, when Walker undertook his reforms to 28,745. The American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin lost 6,000 members out of 17,000.

Union sisterhood and brotherhood aren’t quite as glorious once the dues are no longer mandatory [required].

Those declining numbers represent the sapping of power from the government-union complex that has done so much to bring states and localities around the country to the brink of bankruptcy. They tell the tale of real change, and of how reform is possible – even when special interests are deeply entrenched and ready to fight desperately for every advantage that they consider their entitlement.

Resources

Visit Gov. Walker’s official webpage to read “Check the Facts” (click on ‘Reform and Results’) under “Check the Facts” for the entire PDF document

Read about right to work laws at: right-to-work.org

Watch a CBS video of Gov.Walker on election night: