April 2011

Wisconsin Ground Zero for Attacks on Workers
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After weeks of unprecedented shows of solidarity that sent thousands to the state capitol of Madison, Wis., Gov. Scott Walker and state Senate Republicans rammed through a bill stripping public workers of their rights on March 9, using a high-handed parliamentary maneuver that allowed them to bypass their Democratic colleagues.

The move, which forced the governor and his allies to strip the budget items from the collective bargaining section, exposed their true aim: to break public employee unions in Wisconsin.

Under Walker's bill, the vast majority of public employees would be restricted to bargaining only over wages while contracts would be limited to one year, forcing unions to be recertified on a yearly basis.

University of Wisconsin labor historian Stephen Meyer told In These Times that "Walker's plan is worse than the right-to-work laws because it requires that unions get certified by their members yearly, at the same time that the unions are prevented from accomplishing anything for their members."

Walker says that budget woes were behind the move, saying that public workers are overcompensated compared to their private sector counterparts—an assertion that has been challenged by leading economists.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that Wisconsin's public workers earn nearly 5 percent less in total compensation than employees in the private sector.

Walker's win was a big blow to working families, says Madison Local 159 Business Manager Mark Hoffmann, but the movement that his bill created will continue the fight. Pro-worker activists throughout the state have launched a recall campaign against GOP state senators who have stood with Walker.

Milwaukee Local 2150 member Mike Haak says, "I looked at the bill and there is nothing in there about saving taxpayers' money, but a lot about forcing an anti-worker agenda on the people of Wisconsin."

The 14 members of the state Senate Democratic caucus left Wisconsin in February to deprive the body of a voting quorum and block the anti-worker legislation from coming to the floor.

IBEW members throughout the state and beyond travelled to Madison, including Milwaukee Local 494, which represents electricians employed by state agencies.

Local 494 Business Manager Daniel Large says, "Our public sector members—like many other state employees—took a pay freeze last year, so we have been willing as anyone to tighten our belt to help the government save money."

Hoffmann said hundreds of thousands came to Madison. "Working people in Wisconsin have woken up and are going to change politics as usual in the capital."


Read more: THE WAR ON WORKERS: Favorites Draw Record Votes

Read more: Ohio Workers Stand Up to Anti-Worker Legislation

Read more: New Hampshire: 'The Toughest Fight Yet'

Read more: Florida Workers: Standing Together

Read more: Indiana Right-to-Work Effort Derailed by Labor Pushback

Read more: Meanwhile, Back in Washington, D.C.:
GOP Plan Calls for Gutting Rights, Slashing Jobs

Read more: Activists Keep up the Pressure on Michigan Lawmakers

Read more: Maine Workers Tell Gov.:
'We Need Good Jobs, Not Partisan Attacks'

Families of Milwaukee Local 2150 joined Madison protests.

Resources for
IBEW Activists

Where to go to get involved and
stay up-to-date

We Are One
Americans will be rallying across the country the first week of April in support of workers' rights. Go to the Web site to find an action near you.

States of Denial
An online resource for grassroots activists.

Progressive States Network
An organization committed
to promoting pro-worker, progressive legislation in
all 50 states.

Economic Policy Institute 
A nonpartisan think tank focused on the needs of working people.

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