Wisconsin Face-Off Over Labor

Dave Johnson

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has launched an all-out attack on public-employee unions, proposing to take away the right to collective bargaining. He has threatened to use the National Guard to put down any action by state workers in response.

Here is a clip from Democracy Now! covering the story,

The Nation’s John Nichols says this radical assault on a historically progressive and pro-labor state is part of a nationwide conservative strategy to take down public employee unions.

Harold Meyerson, writing in the in Washington Post, in Workers toppled a dictator in Egypt, but might be silenced in Wisconsin, explains,

Last Friday, Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s new Republican governor, proposed taking away most collective bargaining rights of public employees. Under his legislation, which has moved so swiftly through the newly Republican state legislature that it might come to a vote Thursday, the unions representing teachers, sanitation workers, doctors and nurses at public hospitals, and a host of other public employees, would lose the right to bargain over health coverage, pensions and other benefits.

… The real goal of the American right is to reduce public employee unions to the level of private-sector unions, which now represent fewer than 7 percent of American workers. Walker’s proposal not only confines public-sector unions to annual bargaining over wage increases but restricts the increases for state employees to raises in the consumer price index and compels every such union to hold an annual membership vote to determine whether the union can continue to represent workers. It clearly intends to smash these unions altogether.

Attack On Working People

This is couched as solving state budget problems, and more broadly is clearly as an attack on unions. But it really is an attack on working people everywhere. The only rights working people have is if they can overcome the hurdles to organizing a union. Without this fundamental right to bargain workers – all of us – become nothing more than replaceable, disposable, expendable cogs in the money machine.

People want to join unions, but the hurdles are high. This Wisconsin anti-union campaign is part of an effort to make the hurdles insurmountable. Polling shows that 60 million American workers would join a union if they could

Nearly 60 million U.S. workers say they would join a union if they could, based on research conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates in December 2006. But when workers try to gain a voice on the job by forming a union, employers routinely respond with intimidation, harassment and retaliation.

During union election campaigns, management routinely coerces employees to convince them not to choose union representation. According to a survey of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election campaigns in 1998 and 1999 by Cornell University scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner, private-sector employers illegally fire employees for union activity in at least 25 percent of all efforts to join a union.

Employees not fired fear losing their jobs if they support union representation. According to the Bronfenbrenner survey, management forces employees to attend group anti-union presentations in 92 percent of all union campaigns. Brent Garren, senior associate counsel for UNITE HERE, told a House subcommittee this past September that 79 percent of workers agreed workers are “very” or “somewhat” likely to be fired for trying to form a union.

Workers Turning Out In Response

In response working people in Wisconsin are turning out to protest.

Sights and Sounds, State Capitol Rally, February 15, 2011

15,000 rally at State Capitol against Governor Walker’s bill to severely undermine public employee unions. For another video of Tuesday night’s rally and vigil go to http://www.weac.org or to http://www.vimeo.com/johnnyclark.

The Nation: More Than 10,000 Protest Move by Wisconsin’s ‘Dictator’ Governor to Destroy Public-Sector Unions

More than 10,000 Wisconsinites marched on the state Capitol Tuesday, as crowds rallied in cities around the state, students walked out of high schools and public employees lined roadways holding aloft banners declaring their determination to battle an attempt by Republican Governor Scott Walker to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights and pack state government positions with political patronage appointees.

Another huge crowd — numbering perhaps 8,000 — surrounded the Capitol for a Tuesday night rally. Protests spread to the Milwaukee area, where hundreds of workers massed outside Walker’s suburban home.

The crowds in Madison will swell Wednesday. The city’s schools are closing, as teachers take sick days to join the protests and buses packed with public employees roll into the city.

AFLCIO: Huge Protest Greets ‘Hosni Walker’s’ Attack on Wisconsin Workers

More than 15,000 people, including public employees, union activists and community supporters, jammed into the Capitol Square in Madison, Wis., yesterday to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) plan to strip away state workers’ rights and decimate family-supporting middle-class jobs. Some 3,000 massed inside the Capitol building where a hearing on the bill was under way.

Many of those at yesterday’s rally camped overnight and are continuing their vigil today.

Public workers and their allies held other protests around Wisconsin. Some 1,000 people gathered outside Walker’s suburban Milwaukee home carrying signs that read, “Stop the Attack on Workers’ Rights.”

Wisconsin’s Blogging Blue has been all over this

You Can Help Wisconsin Workers

If you can’t show up in Madison and other cities, there are still things you can do.

You can visit Not My Wisconsin and sign their petition,

Governor Walker is preparing to call in the Wisconsin National Guard to defend his plan to take away nearly all collective bargaining rights from state nurses, teachers and other employees. With virtually no public input, discussion or debate with affected workers, Governor Walker is briefing the Guard and state agencies to prepare for a disaster that he might cause. The Governor should not threaten to use the National Guard against Wisconsin public workers! TAKE ACTION: TELL THE GOVERNOR THAT THIS IS “NOT MY WISCONSIN” SIGN UP FOR E-MAIL AND/OR TEXT ALERTS

There is a new Facebook group: Protect Wisconsin Families – go join.

Not JUST Wisconsin

Unfortunately this is happening in other states as well, in a coordinated attack on working people’s rights. Following a buildup over the last year, “preparing the ground” with claims that state employee payrolls and pensions and not tax cuts and the recession are ‘bankrupting” state governments, now Republican governors are using that as cover to attack unions. This is a coordinated assault, and is happening in other states as well as in Wisconsin.

In a recent post, Discover The Network Out To Crush Our Public Workers, I followed the threads from just one “pension reform” organization in California, and show how it is connected to a network of national conservative-movement organizations, many with Wall Street backing, all attacking public employees and unions. This post, following only one thread, only scratched the surface.

Ohio

Dayton Daily News, Kasich ending bargaining for state workers

Gov. John Kasich and Republican lawmakers made it clear this week that big changes are coming to the public employees collective bargaining law as the state looks to close an $8 billion budget gap.
“All of this is an effort to reduce the cost of government to reduce the tax burden on families and job creators,” said Rob Nichols, spokesman for Kasich.

Kasich said Thursday if lawmakers don’t dismantle public employees collective bargaining then he will. “All this is rooted in job creation.”

It’s a fight shaping up with unions in states across the country, particularly those with Republican-dominated governments that are in fiscal trouble. Indiana, Idaho and Tennessee all have legislation in the works that would scale back or eliminate collective bargaining.

Here’s a Facebook page, Stand Up For Ohio, with more than 50,000 supporters.

Missouri

Mo. Senate panel advances ‘right to work’ bill.,

A Missouri Senate panel has advanced legislation that would prevent people from having to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

Voters rejected a measure in 1978 that would have made Missouri a “right to work” state. But union membership has declined since then, and Republican lawmakers say the potential for unionized shops discourages some businesses from coming to Missouri.

Demonstrating what worker right mean to us, this bill also gets rid of child-labor protections! Missouri Senator Wants to Eliminate Child Labor Laws, Really,

Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham (R) has introduced a bill to minimize child labor laws. I could find all kinds of colorful words and descriptions to show just how crazed and outrageous is S.B. 222.

But let’s just use the official summary of the bill from the Missouri state Senate website and if you don’t believe me, click here and read it yourself.

  • This act modifies the child labor laws.
  • It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen.
  • Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed.
  • It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed.
  • Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished.
  • It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ.
  • It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.
  • Indiana

    Here is a video from the Indiana Federation of Teachers (IFT) responding to Gov. Daniels’ anti-teacher-union efforts:

    Indiana teachers rally against efforts by Governor Mitch Daniels to divert resources from public schools to charter schools and private schools.

    Other States

    Think Progress: Teachers Under Fire: At Least Nine States Propose Stripping Teachers Of Collective Bargaining Rights, some while passing corporate and other tax breaks to benefit the wealthy.

    Lawmakers in several states have launched a broadside against public employees, aiming to cut their pay, slash their benefits, and strip them of their collective bargaining rights. Pivoting off the myth that public employees are getting paid more than their private sector counterparts, governors and state legislatures are scapegoating public workers for their states’ respective budget woes.

    One of the biggest targets for these conservatives have been teachers. In fact, lawmakers in at least seven states have proposed stripping teachers of some of their collective bargaining rights…

    Think Progress documents attacks on public-employee unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, Idaho, Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Nebraska, Florida and Michigan. Click through for details.

    These right-wing groups and lawmakers are using the guise of a budget crisis to push through changes to collective bargaining that have nothing to do with the budget. Through collective bargaining, not only can teachers negotiate a fair wage, but they can also ensure that work conditions are optimal and due process is employed when it comes to hiring and firing decisions. Taking these rights away will not alleviate budget deficits.

    Other Responses

    The AFL-CIO has a page up named States Of Denial looking at what is happening in different states.

    In state after state, newly elected Republican legislators and governors are playing politics as usual by launching a coordinated attack on working families designed to swell already-record-size corporate profits and keep those CEO bonuses coming. These politicians aren’t offering up their own pay or pensions—they want working families to bear the burden.

    Here is a short video from the International Association of Fire Fighters, responding to the right’s attacks on their union.

    Democrats Must Step Up And Defend Labor

    This assault on working people demands a response from elected Democrats in the states and nationally. From the President down, it is time to stand up for the rights of citizens in a democracy to fair working conditions, fair wages and benefits, and the right to collective bargaining for all of us.

    Comments