Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Unions And Act 10: Value Versus Ability To Pay

In Sunday's paper, Dan Bice had a column reporting on the drop in membership of public sector unions since the passage of Act 10, noting that most unions have lost 30% to 60% of their member.

Bice went to Scott Walker regarding this and let Walker spew the standard party line about the drop in numbers:
Reached earlier this month, Walker said he was not surprised by the numbers.

"We were trying to empower workers and give them a choice," the first-term Republican governor said. "If workers saw value out of their union, then they have every right to stay put. But if they didn't, they could make that choice."

Walker rejected any suggestion that he had effectively handicapped the once-powerful labor groups with his legislation.

"People said at the time, 'Oh, you're trying to get rid of the unions,'" Walker recalled. "I said, 'No, I'm trying to have them show value.' Workers are making their value assumptions."
Needless to say, Walker is so full of it, he could fertilize 40 acres of farmland by himself.

First of all, one would have to be totally oblivious to the fact that it is a federal law that requires an opt out choice for union members.  Act 10, in that sense, is a needless redundancy.  This alone shows that Act 10 was designed to do much more than empower workers.  If anything, empowering workers is about the only thing it doesn't do.

What it comes down to is not so much the value of the unions, but the ability to pay the dues to be a member.


Bice also spoke to labor law expert Paul Secunda regarding the drop in membership numbers.  His answers go part of the way:
One labor law expert challenged Walker's statement on his motives.

"Absolutely disingenuous," said Paul Secunda, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School.

Secunda, who hasn't given to Democratic or Republican candidates in recent years, said it's clear that Act 10 was part of an orchestrated effort to undermine public employee unions, noting that GOP governors in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan had made similar proposals.

Walker's plan, the professor said, contains such punitive measures as requiring unions to recertify annually and barring employees from paying their union dues through payroll deductions.

Beyond that, the governor reduced the importance of these unions by prohibiting collective bargaining on anything but wage increases — and then only up to the rate of inflation. Secunda said even those public employees who agree with the idea of unions must be asking why they should pay dues to get the same pay raise as everybody else in government.

"It's not about liking or disliking unions," Secunda said.
Secunda is correct in what he says, but his answer is incomplete.

The unions provide much more value than the limited amount of negotiating.

The unions are still representing their members in grievances and in disciplinary hearings.  They can still make sure that the workplace is safe, that the rules are being applied fairly and that workers are treated equally.

The unions still protect the workers, as they have done in Milwaukee, where there is at least five or six lawsuits pending, all of which deal with the restoration of things that were wrongly taken from them.  And mush to Milwaukee County Emperor Chris Abele's chagrin, the county has been squandering tens of thousands of dollars in appealing the rulings against them, only to lose them again.

It's not only public sector workers who gain from their unions.  The unions have been involved in community gardening, hygiene supply drives, fundraising for charities or for individuals in need.

Needless to say, the public sector unions still offer great value to their members as well as to the members of the community.


Since we can now clearly see that unions do indeed show value, why is membership numbers so low?

The answer is simple.  Follow the money.  Or the lack thereof.

I addressed this issue when former blargher Owen Robinson was celebrating the impoverishment on tens of thousands of workers were already having ripple effects throughout the state:
As Jeff pointed out the other day, Act 10 has serious financial consequences for working families across the state.  And it's not just the public sector workers who have had their wages docked by as much as 10 to 20%, but are also facing higher costs to see the doctor or to get medication.  There are public sector workers that now qualify for financial aid and food stamps because of Act 10. 

People in the private sector, most notably the service industry, are also getting hurt as the demand dries up as the cash is being taken out of our economy.  This is why we're seeing more businesses shutting their doors and more and more people getting laid off.

Another way that this malicious sabotage of our economy is hurting is by driving highly qualified people from their fields, because they can no longer afford it or deal with the stress of it:
Stephanie Kline resigned from her position as an 8th grade math teacher at New Richmond Middle School in Wisconsin. Her last day of teaching is June 6, 2012.  A final straw for Kline came when her 5-year-old son was refused services at her New Richmond Clinic for an outstanding medical bill accrued this past year.  Her medical deductible increased $3,500 coupled with a salary decrease of $2000 in the 2011-2012 school year.  The decreasing ability to support her family, along with stress, uncertainty, and lack of communication has pushed her out of the teaching profession. Her story may resonate with many workers around the state who have experienced changes in their profession due to public policy choices. However, Kline’s story is a personal one.  She states several times throughout this interview that she is “only speaking for myself, and not other teachers.”
What Robinson is celebrating is not the liberation of thousands of people suddenly freed from a tyrannical union, but people having to drop their memberships because they need that money to put food on the table, keep a roof over their head and make sure their families get the medical care they need.

What Robinson is celebrating is the impoverishment and indenturing of tens of thousands of families, just so that he can save a whopping $12 on his property taxes.
Bice noted in his article that AFSCME District Council 48, representing workers in Milwaukee County, was hit hardest. That would only follow logic, since Milwaukee County workers have been given the squeezed

more than twice than any other public sector worker in the state.  Currently, Milwaukee County is requiring it's workers to pay 25% towards their health insurance, about twice any other public sector employee pays.  And even that wasn't enough for Abele.

If one doesn't have enough money to pay for one's groceries without public assistance, how is one supposed also afford their union dues?

Before any of our conservative readers start to gloat about this, remember that it is Walker's legalized robbery of public sector workers which has caused the state's economy and job market to sink like a rock.  If your wages and/or hours get cut, if your business starts to flounder, and if you start struggling with your bills, you can trace it all right back to Walker and Act 10.

In summary, the drop in membership is not a reflection of people opting out of the union as Walker and his apologists claim.  It is a measurement of just how afraid the corporate puppet of a governor and his masters are of the unions, that they would make it so that the workers are lucky to keep a roof over their head and food on the table, much less be able to pay their dues.

And it verifies Thomas Donahue's famous quote: "The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor."


  1. Even the most inept can put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4. When people have a budget, they do so knowing that they have X number of dollars to spend towards food, bills, etc. When X is decreased, they need to start making cuts in other areas. Unfortunately, some have made the choice to make the cuts in union dues, for whatever reason, but most likely it's because they have had to make cuts across the board to be able to put food on the table.

    Walker, claiming that he's somehow the advocate of the worker is just pure and utter bullshit. The guy doesn't care one bit about the working class, and those that believe he is, are as stupid as the day is long. Unfortunately, they have yet to wake up to the reality that Walker is nothing more than a paid whore, servicing his clients (Bradley Foundation, De Vos family, Koch brothers, etc.).

  2. And did you know that as a state worker if your union recertified you are not going to get that big 1% raise this month reguardless if you stayed with the union or not? Just found that out, Hubby will not be getting it because WEAC recertified. I am sure this is just another way to make sure people don't vote next time to recertify. More punishment from our wack job gov.

  3. Recertified state employee unions will need to bargain the pay raises for their members. This was the case prior to Act 10 as well. Members of state employee unions prior to Act 10, did not receive the non-rep pay raises included in the comp plan. Instead, their union bargained for their raises and the increases were included in their collective bargaining agreements. Generally, the state employee contracts included raises that were more than received by the non-reps and included lump sum payments equal to what the member would have received if the effective date of the contract had been the same as the effective date of the non-rep raises. Of course, under Walker, the certified unions will find it very difficult to achieve larger raises than the non-reps as, under Act 10, he has the right to impose wage increases if the contract does not settle within a certain time frame. Another way to destroy the state employee unions.

  4. Actually the non-reps always got what the unions eventually negotiated, up until the very last 2% that Doyle took back. The non-rep plan was always amended. I should start by saying I was an active union member, served on our board, served on bargaining teams and even chaired a few. And I can't disagree with most of what was said, but there is another point that should be made. Many of the unions made their own bed for the loss of some of their members. Act 10 and how it came down put on display for everyone that was close to it that for the State and National federations (the corporate and professional class) it was all about the money and self preservation (and by self I mean as individuals with inflated paychecks).

    In my case I went to and watched many strategy meetings occuring from the time Walker got elected to the time the bomb was dropped. During that time most of us felt that he would make health care and retirement prohibited subjects for bargaining and arbitrarily change them to our detriment. We also suspected he'd get rid of arbitration for the munis and teachers. But no one suspected he would go anywhere close to what Act 10 did. I believe that because it was only the employees ox getting gored there was very little involvement from the "professionals". The people who were paid $100,000/yr+ to help the volunteers navigate what was coming. Little help in planning, or ideas or offering alternatives. A lot of foot dragging. BUT once they found out that THEIR paychecks were on the line? Well, you have never seen people move so fast, protests were organized, lawsuits considered -- ALL focused on restoring the dues collection (oh and the collective bargaining that enabled it). It was actually disgusting to watch.

    Make no mistake the "corporate" unions grew fat and happy. They were only ever interested in growing their dues pie and did very little tending of the current flock. So yes, money is a huge factor in not paying dues after Act 10 especially for blue collar folks, and yes many people are now realizing that contracts are actually good things to have and wish they'd done something different at the polls. But there was a lot of dis-enchantment with the State and National Federations long before Act 10 and once Act 10 gave people an out they took it.

    1. That is the biggest load of crap I have ever read. I was at the Capitol almost everyday and it was not JUST about the money.

      It was about losing their rights, why would anyone logically say that a person who spends most of their time at work should have no say in their workplace?

      We have documented over and over on here that the big business and the republicans are allowed their union yet working class people are not allowed a say? We let the anonymous fools from ALEC write our legislation and we dont let people have any say on their workplace(where they are the actual experts)?

      However, I will admit it was also part about the money, how could it not be? Who can weather a 12% paycut out of the blue while being handed more responsibility and less resources? Who should be able to handle that?

      I am actually going to disagree a little from Capper here, sure its because the money has been cut, people cant afford to pay dues anymore....BUT the larger picture is that there is no real reason TO join the union anymore.

      The Big Government republicans have legislated them out of existence. Public employee unions, by law, can only negotiate a pay increase of base wages, and then that increase is limited by law.

      With the big brother hand of Scott Walker ... whats the point?

  5. Jeff, I figured I'd get a response like this. It's not a load of crap, I was there in the meetings and strategy sessions. I saw it. It was extremely frustrating and demoralizing. The capitol protests on the other hand were uplifting and amazing. But the people at the capitol were NOT the people who were collecting big paychecks as union professionals. They were regular folks, union members, farmers, and people of all stripes who saw one of the most blatant abuses of power by a bought and paid for politician ever. And for those 99.9% of the people there it WAS about losing their rights and watching their State be devastated by those that want us to return to the 1890s. But remember the professional staff of the State and Local federations were NOT losing their rights they were losing their cash cow and their cushy often don't do much jobs. I was in those offices for 8 years, I saw it. Was it all of them? Of course not, but way more than it should have been. If you doubt the disconnect between the professionals and the people they're supposed to work for ask the prison guards how they feel about Marty.

    My point is that if the unions don't look at themselves and their business model and instead only blame the evil republicans for all their ills they will remain irrelevant. That would be bad for workers and the country. I for one have not seen a single contact from my union since the recall and absolutely nothing about why I would want to join or support them. Email is cheap. And they have the lists.

  6. I agree that the unions have not kept themselves above the fray but for the middle class the union is the only life-line. As for the teachers, I believe if they had been included at the bargaining table and it was taken to a membership vote they would have been willing to trade off some benefits in exchange for others. Health insurance was a complicated issue; many teachers in the state wanted to move away from WEAC coverage for something cheaper for many years so they could bargain for raises that many went without for many years. Remember the Q.E.O which mandated no cuts to health benefits?? That beautiful olive branch to the teachers offered up by Gov. Thompson? Turned out to be a bridge to his future career in the insurance industry.

  7. Organized labor is organized greed. The union only benefited the union leaders and provided no value for us. TGFSW for giving me a choice.