At the old union hall here on a recent afternoon, Terry Magnant sat at the head of a table surrounded by 18 empty chairs. A members meeting had been scheduled to start a half-hour earlier, but the small house, with its cracked walls and loose roof shingles, was lonely and desolate.
“There used to be a lot more people coming,” said Magnant, a 51-year-old nursing assistant, sighing.
The anti-union law passed here four years ago, which made Gov. Scott Walker a national Republican star and a possible presidential candidate, has turned out to be even more transformative than many had predicted.
But recalling the benefits that union membership might have brought before the 2011 law stripped most public-sector unions of their collective-bargaining rights is difficult when workers consider the challenges of the present.
“I don’t see the point of being in a union anymore,” said Dan Anliker, a 34-year-old technology teacher and father of two in Reedsburg, a tiny city about 60 miles northwest of Madison.
Walker has pointed to the unions’ membership troubles as a victory — presenting himself as a conservative warrior unafraid of taking on big battles against liberal interests.
Walker’s administration has said forcing public employees to contribute more to retirement plans and health insurance helped local governments save $3 billion. The governor also has credited the 2011 law with saving homeowners money on property taxes while giving school districts the ability to make reforms that increased third-grade reading levels and high school graduation rates. And the law has emboldened Republican state lawmakers to further challenge Wisconsin’s labor movement this year by pushing right-to-work legislation that would allow private-sector workers to opt out of paying union dues — a measure Walker has said he would sign.
“We took the power away from the big-government special interests and put it firmly in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers,” Walker told Iowa Republicans recently. “That is what we need more of in this great country. The liberals don’t like that.”
Union officials declined to release precise membership data but confirmed in interviews that enrollment is dramatically lower since the new law was signed in 2011.
The state branch of the National Education Association, once 100,000 strong, has seen its membership drop by a third. The American Federation of Teachers, which organized in the college system, saw a 50 percent decline. The 70,000-person membership in the state employees union has fallen by 70 percent.
The decline is politically significant in Wisconsin, a presidential battleground where the unions have played a central role in Democrats’ get-out-the-vote drives.
If you read thru that entire article you will not see one line explaining why public employee unions are shrinking in membership. They WERE NOT stripped of their collective bargaining rights. PEU’s are still legal in Wisconsin. They can still bargain collectively for wages too. But union dues are no longer compulsory for public employees in the Cheesehead State:
Act 10 made important changes to PEU law. First, Walker’s reform limited negotiations to only wages and working conditions, not benefits — which eliminated the kickback scheme of the WEA Trust from negotiations, saving school districts and local communities a ton of cash they were paying for vastly overpriced health insurance. The WEA Trust had to lower its prices to compete against other insurers, cutting off a major source of funding for PEUs. The reform also required PEUs to hold regular recertification elections, which they had been loathe to ever offer, and ended state-deducted dues payments. Unions had to collect their own dues, which were not compulsory, and justify their own existence.
The PEU’s had a pretty sweet deal. Thanks to a SCOTUS few decisions union membership could not be mandatory, but employees could still be required to pay union dues for non-political union activities. These dues were a mandatory deduction from their paychecks, just like taxes.
Thanks to Scott Walker, public employees are free to not join a union and not pay dues. If they do want to belong to a union it is up to them to pay their dues. Apparently many of those public employees decided they really didn’t want to be in the union after all.
This was my favoritist part:
Fish remained incredulous.
“You have to be mean,” she said. “We never got anything by being nice. We’ve had to walk out. We got things when we banged our fists on tables.”
Brey jumped into the conversation.
“Sometimes I think,” she stopped to collect the words delicately.
“Sometimes, I think, . . . that’s . . . why they came after us, Jenny. Because they thought these teachers were too demanding.”
When you are making more than the people who are paying your salary and benefits and you bang your fists on the table and demand more, those people are likely to start resenting you.
Now those crazy teabagging Republicans in Wisconsin are working on a bill to do pretty much the same thing to private sector unions. The private sector unions are not pleased.