|Wisconsin Ground Zero for Attacks on Workers
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."
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