If you’re wondering why only the State Senate Democrats and not the Assembly walked out in Wisconsin, protesting the budget repair bill that would strip collective bargaining rights for public employees, it’s because Republicans and one independent are enough in the Assembly for a quorum. Bob Ziegelbauer, that one independent, seemed noncommital on going to work today, but leaning in that direction. The Assembly Democrats are in a caucus at the Capitol.
As we’ve been saying, Wisconsin is kind of a launching pad for conservatives who want to break public employee unions. Other efforts are happening in concert. Tennessee just passed a bill out of a Senate committee stripping collective bargaining for teachers. If you weren’t aware that the tea party push to elect Republicans was more about union-busting than liberty or freedom, you weren’t paying attention:
Walker’s gambit has rightly elicited outrage, but considering the breadth of the attack unions are facing nationally, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Right-to-work legislation has been filed in twelve states; this is in addition to the twenty-two that already have such laws on the books. In technical terms, this legislation makes it illegal for employers to condition employment on union membership or the equivalent dues payments even when a majority of workers vote to form a union; practically speaking, it makes building and maintaining a strong union very difficult, which in turn makes it harder to organize new workplaces because there are few positive examples of unions to point to. In Virginia, the corporations and right-wing ideologues decided that the existing right-to-work law wasn’t sufficient, and introduced a measure to embed the right-to-work provisions in the state Constitution. Three more states—Montana, Ohio and Wisconsin—are expected to have bills introduced converting their legal status to right-to-work.
Alabama passed legislation in January that bans public employee unions from collecting dues unless the unions first prove that none of the money will be used for supporting election campaigns. In every subsequent year after the initial certification, the union must submit itemized reports accounting for how its money is being spent. This law, sold as “paycheck protection” by the right but known as “paycheck deception” among union activists, has been introduced in four other states this year, including Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri. In California there has already been ballot initiative language submitted to do the same. Using a variety of legal tools, these measures prohibit the use of union dues for political activity. Union advocates are expecting twelve more states to file bills or initiatives banning the collection of union monies for politics.
Read on, it’s incredibly detailed on the attacks toward unions from multiple different angles.
Needless to say, unions had nothing to do with budget deficits in the states. You can attribute that to a near-depression caused by a financial crisis. In Wisconsin, you can attribute this particular budget deficit to Scott Walker’s immediate decision upon taking office to cut taxes for his business buddies. In fact, the “budget repair bill” would force areas of the budget like mass transit to pull off a complete restructure or lose $45 million in federal funding, because federal law requires collective bargaining rights as a condition for aid. That part of the “repair” bill, then, could add to the deficit.
Of course, this isn’t about the deficit. It’s an ideological play. It uses the guise of fiscal discipline to accomplish an unrelated goal. And it’s happening everywhere. And the particular target is public-sector unions; 36% of employees in the public sector are organized, compared to just 7% in the private sector. Wages have stagnated because of this growing inability to pool power and collectively bargain. Breaking up the public sector will increase employer leverage even more. To quote Jane McAlevey, “The average worker in a right-to-work state earns $5,333 less than his or her counterpart in a pro-worker state.” This is the last stand of the American worker.
There’s an opportunity here to fight back. Eight Wisconsin Republicans in the state Senate could be recalled immediately, and the Governor within six months. The asymmetrical warfare, where Republicans keep to their goal of total destruction and Democrats seek to make nice and negotiate, has to stop. It has to stop first in Wisconsin.