New Orleans A year ago new Governor Scott Walker led the Wisconsin legislature in a bitter, highly contentious and contested, battle to attack public employee unionization. The headlines a year later focus on labor’s efforts to recall the government. What happened to the workers in Wisconsin in the face of these new laws? Short answer: nothing good!
Understand first exactly how draconian these rules were fashioned. From the headlines most probably remember that the Republicans tried to hide under the sheep’s clothing of pretending to be more democratic. In this perversion of the concept they first mandated an annual recertification process, meaning that a “yes” or “no” vote by the workers on continuing to be represented by the union. At first glance some might thing this would be a nuisance but not that big of a problem, but the “flawmakers” put their hands on the scales against the workers and their unions. Winning the vote would no longer be on the old rules, where a majority of those voting would decide in the same way legislators and the governor were elected themselves by a plurality of those voting. No, the unions would have to win by 50% plus one of all of the workers who were eligible to vote, much like the very difficult, old Railway Labor Act standards for transportation workers, rather than the National Labor Relations Act standards of majority rule that have been in place for over 60 years.
And, keep in mind that that was simply the first hurdle the workers were required to jump. So, how have unions fared under this regime?
Many public sector unions, especially the larger ones affiliated with AFSCME, which were virtually born in Wisconsin originally, announce they would not seek to recertify under these new rules. This decision last September meant that tens of thousands of state workers and others might be informally represented, but would not be certified any longer. The head of the largest AFSCME council was quoted flatly as saying that they thought their resources were better spent fighting for a new law and recertifying when collective bargaining returned rather than trying to survive under this mishmash.
Most teachers unions with the National Education Association (NEA) did decide to recertify. About a third of the bargaining units had to go through the process in the fall of 2011. The other two-thirds are not yet up or are under existing contracts that delay their decisions. Importantly of the units eligible, workers won majorities virtually in every contest. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel these were the results:
The Wisconsin Employee Relations Commission, which oversaw the voting over the past 20 days, released a list of results showing that 177 teacher and other education unions voted to recertify, and 29 fell short of a recertification vote. Of the 29 failures to recertify, only one union, made up of teachers in tiny North Cape School in Franksville, actually had more members voting against recertification than for it. The new recertification rules required a vote of 51% of a union’s membership – not just a majority of voting members, as is the case when public officials run for office. The North Cape vote was 6-5 against certification, with 18 members in what the WERC called the “unit population.”
In a “real” democracy unions would have won all of these elections except one, which they lost by one vote! But who knows what drugs the various “flawmakers” are on in Wisconsin. The paper further reported on one district where the union failed to recertify:
One unit that just missed certification was Northern Ozaukee School District teachers union. The WERC document lists 64 members in the voting population; the vote was 31-1 in favor of recertification. Paul Krause, president of the Northern Ozaukee School Board, said he took the failure of recertification as a sign the majority of the district’s teachers have faith in the district. “I hope that the relationship between the board and teachers can continue to improve,” he said.
Are you following this? The head of the school board watches the union win by a 31-1 with 50% of the eligible teachers voting, and slaps his own back that he won because the majority didn’t vote?!? Crazy in the cold up there!
I mentioned earlier that recertification was just the first hurdle. Another big one is the fact that even when recertified, unions by the new “flaws” are not allowed to bargain on very much of anything since all of that has been curtailed.
Oh, and just so there’s no confusion that this might even possibly be about worker democracy, here’s another juicy tidbit from the newspaper story where a legislator makes it clear this is all a game of “gotcha” on the unions, since a big part of this fight is taking away union dues as well.
Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, responded, “If teachers decided they want to recertify their unions, more power to them.” But he said the next question is whether the unions are able to collect their dues; the new state law removed the ability of unions to have dues automatically withheld from members’ paychecks. “The question is, will the dues come in,” he said. “The proof will be in the pudding.”
The proof of the pudding is here. This is Republican class war, Wisconsin style, and being copied by other states wherever possible. Hating unions is one thing, stacking the deck is another, and that’s where it all gets nasty.