Why Right-to-Work is Wrong for Wisconsin

Why Right-to-Work is Wrong for Wisconsin

i Dec 17th No Comments by

Next legislative session elected leaders in Wisconsin should come together to focus on jobs and the economy. We don’t need another divisive attack on workers’ rights. It is time to put aside the partisan politics and get to work on fixing our economy.

So called right-to-work (RTW) legislation would be a distraction from the real issues impacting Wisconsin families. Often called right to work for less, these bills are designed to crush the very soul of unions by crippling solidarity among working people.

The case against RTW rests on fundamental principles of economics and fairness. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau show that workers in RTW states have lower wages, higher rates of poverty, less access to health care and poorer education for children. The average full-time, full-year worker in RTW states makes about $1,500 less than a similar worker in a non-RTW state.

This has implications for everyone. Despite rhetoric about the wealthy being job creators, we know jobs are actually created by middle class demand for goods and services. When wages are depressed by RTW laws, consumer demand goes down, taking employment opportunities with it.

RTW legislation is part of a national attack on the American Dream and democracy funded by power hungry CEOs and influential corporate interests. It allows for the government to interfere in the relationship between a private employer and its employees.

While supporters claim that RTW laws promote job growth, studies show a different picture. Oklahoma adopted a RTW law 10 years ago after supporters claimed it would stimulate employment. According to the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce, the number of new companies coming into the state has instead decreased by one-third since RTW was enacted. Closer to home in Indiana, where Gov. Daniels signed RTW legislation last February, officials have yet to identify a single company that relocated to that state because of RTW. In fact, Indiana continues to lose jobs to free bargaining states like Ohio, Illinois and California.

Let’s get the facts straight. No worker is ever forced to join a union. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled long ago that no one can be forced to join a union or pay fees not directly related to the cost of bargaining a contract. RTW laws encourage people to get something for free that others pay for – it’s called freeloading. These measures give workers the unjust opportunity to reap the benefits of collective bargaining grievance procedures, apprenticeship training programs, affordable health care, a good wage – without contributing their fair share to the cost of negotiation. This is unfair and un-American.

RTW simply redistributes income from workers to owners. At a time when corporations are enjoying record profits while workers’ wages remain flat, right-to-work is exactly the wrong way to go. The middle class has lost ground economically and income inequality is greater now than at any time since the 1920s. If we want a thriving economy we need to strengthen workers’ ability to collectively bargain, not weaken it.

Now more than ever, Wisconsinites across the political spectrum need to be unified in our efforts to create good jobs and restore prosperity for all. The RTW road is a dead-end for Wisconsin’s working families. (from AFL-CIO)

(December 2014 Union Labor News)

Nichols Looks to Workers

i Dec 17th No Comments by

John Nichols is journalistic superstar who regularly shares his progressive ideas on the Ed Schultz show and with Sly Sylvester on local talk radio. He has been staple in the Cap Times and the Nation magazine and is a prolific author. But John is a star who ordinary Wisconsinites are likely to meet just going about their daily business.

It was no surprise, therefore, when Union Labor News caught up with him recently in a coffee shop near the square finding him in impromptu discussions with all sorts of folks who had ducked in for a cup of coffee only to end up in an animated conversation with Nichols.

One thing Nichols emphasizes in conversation is the importance of unions and workers’ rights. Probably no journalist has defended workers more vigorously than him. ULN asked him how he viewed the recent election, especially as it relates to workers.

The Election
Asked whether Scott Walker won the governor’s election or Mary Burke lost it, he froze, paused 15 seconds, and finally concluded that Walker had won it.

“The election was very much about Scott Walker,” he said. “It was a referendum on him in many ways.” Walker had a lot going for him: money, his friends’ money, and an “incredibly intense schedule” that kept him circulating regularly around the state, especially in some rural areas and small towns that never saw Burke. “His last rally was on a farm,” added Nichols.

“He is a very disciplined political player,” Nichols said. But he could have been beaten, “I have little doubt of that.”

He said that Democrats needed to do better in some areas of western and northern Wisconsin which are “progressive/populist but not necessarily Democratic.” Burke needed to “articulate a clear strategy for making rural, small town Wisconsin work and survive.” Such a strategy would have focused much more militantly against school vouchers. “While vouchers may be damaging to urban schools,” he said, “they’re absolutely devastating to rural schools.”

Nichols compared Walker to Tommy Thompson, but not favorably. In Walker’s three elections he amassed voting totals of 52%, 53%, and 52%. Thompson’s numbers for his first three elections for governor also started at 52% (in 1986), but escalated to 58% then 67%.

Getting 52% in a Republican “wave” election, as Walker did, didn’t impress Nichols and it doesn’t bode well for Walker’s presidential aspirations. He is a “politically weak player,” according to Nichols.

Nichols believes the Wisconsin media have been very complacent in their coverage of the governor, especially when it comes to corruption, but he doesn’t believe it all started with Walker. “The change in Wisconsin has been profound and is deeply troubling” reflecting a “casual comfort level with corruption” that was unknown in Wisconsin until recent years.

Nichols cited previous movements in the wrong direction: Thompson for bringing in big outside money for the first time, the caucus scandals from a decade ago which tainted both parties, and most recently, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos for his “shocking statement” about the Milwaukee Bucks essentially disqualifying themselves from state help because their owner supported Democrats.

Nichols expects the national press to be much harder on Walker on corruption and other issues if he runs for president.

John Nichols defends workers during a 2011 rally at the State Capitol in Madison

John Nichols defends workers during a 2011 rally at the State Capitol in Madison

What’s next for workers?
There has been a “very organized effort to diminish unions,” Nichols said. He cited Michigan and Indiana as very much in the same mold as Wisconsin. In those two states they’ve already passed “right-to-work” legislation, decimating the unions there.

Could that happen in Wisconsin? “It’s very possible,” said Nichols. “The notion that this issue is not going to arise in Wisconsin is foolish.” He then quoted Walker’s exact words when asked about it several years ago: “I wouldn’t necessarily propose it.”

“He never for a second said that he wouldn’t sign it,” Nichols said. The governor wouldn’t have to propose it. An increasingly anti-worker State Legislature would do that. All he would have to do is sign it.

According to Nichols, Walker’s national ambitions might be the only thin barrier that keeps Wisconsin from becoming a right to work state as Walker weighs whether he should concentrate more on winning the Republican primary or make himself more electable in the general election.

But a governor so supportive of corporate power is likely to find other areas to attack workers: no increase in minimum wage, more “free trade,” an attack on prevailing wage, weaker public services and schools, more privatization.
Yet Nichols sees many things that unions are doing right in this difficult climate. He has seen “young people more excited about unions” and “more people (who) understand the value of unions.”

I’ve seen trade union activists and allies get into tough battles and step up,” he said. He believes that Tammy Baldwin’s senatorial win just two years ago was “a victory for an enlightened labor movement.”

What’s next for John Nichols?
When asked how many books he had written, he didn’t have an answer and started counting on his fingers. When he had run out of digits, he announced, “Twelve.”

His 2012 book, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street, is the definitive book on our outraged reaction to the governor’s assault on workers.

In the book, he had this advice for unions, “The combination of street heat and electoral action, though difficult to achieve, seems to make the most sense. The two can and should go hand in hand; in fact I think the combination of the two is far more powerful than the sum of the parts.”

He said his next book will be a history of the Republican Party. “The party has abandoned a lot of what was good about it,” he said, suggesting that it had drifted into economic extremism. “The current Republican Party is a radical deviation from what the party once was.”

Then he began talking about book number 14. When he said, “We really blew globalization,” the coffee cups had long since gone dry and it was time to go.

(December 2014 Union Labor News)

Campus Workers Rally

i Dec 17th No Comments by

“The University has money for building expansion, more deans, new facilities–but not workers.”

That’s the message about 150 workers from four union locals brought on a Halloween march to the UW Chancellor’s office.

What brought them to this point?

A typical Wisconsin state employee has had a 22% wage cut in the past six years.

More than 400 UW classified staff do not make the City of Madison living wage, and over 900 make under $15 an hour.

Graduate students’ fees have increased 98% since 2003 and health care costs have almost tripled in the past three years. As a result, graduate student workers’ take home pay has decreased 14.4% in the last decade.

A UW-Madison graduate student worker at the minimum appointment level makes $9,830. The poverty threshold is $11,490.

The average student worker at UW-Madison would have to work more than 37 hours per week at the current wages to pay for the cost of tuition.

On average, an adjunct teaching the same number of courses as a tenure track professor makes less than $20,000 per year.

Barb Peters, President of AFSCME 171, said that campus workers are slipping out of the middle class.

It’s time to invest in workers on campus.

The rally was sponsored by the TAA (AFT 3220), AFSCME 171, UFAS (AFT 223) and the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC).

(December 2014 Union Labor News)

How much political corruption should we tolerate?

i Dec 17th No Comments by

Nearby Illinois has a long and legendary history of political corruption. They also have a tradition of locking up corrupt leaders. Of Illinois’ last seven governors, four have gone to prison. There’s Rod Blagojevich who infamously tried to sell Barack Obama’s old Senate Seat. George Ryan was convicted of racketeering and sent up the river for six and a half years. Dan Walker did time for bank fraud. Otto Kerner was sentenced to three years for bribery.

There are increasing indications that Wisconsin, which had no such tradition of corruption throughout most of its history, has adopted Illinois’ political ethic but has misplaced the cleansing mechanism of prison for the abusers.

There’s the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), chaired by Wisconsin’s current governor, which has lost track of millions of dollars of taxpayer money and channeled the lion’s share of investment money to his political contributors.

There’s dark money coming into the system, as evidenced by the $700,000 political contribution by mining interests just before they were allowed to write their own rules.

There’s the million dollars in insurance industry political contributions that appear to have influenced the state’s irrational decision to reject Medicare money.

There’s a state Supreme Court with justices who see no problem with making decisions featuring litigants on one side who have given them millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

Wisconsin justice didn’t always turn a blind eye toward corruption. It was nine years ago this month that former state Senate leader, Chuck Chvala, was sent to jail for nine months after pleading guilty to misconduct in public office and making an illegal campaign contribution. A few weeks before that, State Senator Brian Burke was given six months in jail for using his office to campaign for Attorney General. Both were Democrats. So was Senator Gary George, who lost his Senate seat in 2003 and was later convicted of taking kickbacks.

In May 2006, Judge Steven Ebert sentenced Chvala’s Republican counterpart, Representative Scott Jensen, to 15 months in prison. “You used your power and your influence to run an illegal campaign funding operation,” said Ebert at the time. An Appeals Court overturned the conviction on a technicality, and with the help of the current Wisconsin Supreme Court, a change in state law allowed Jensen to move the venue from Dane County to a friendlier Waukesha County.

Four years ago this month, the Waukesha County District Attorney reached a plea agreement with Jensen. Unlike the democrats Jensen ended up with zero jail time. The lenient DA in that case was Brad Schimel. He has just been elected Attorney General for the state of Wisconsin.

Now we have Assembly Speaker Robin Vos telling Marc Lasry, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, that giving money to Democrats could harm his chances of getting state support for a new arena.

One Wisconsin Now has asked for a criminal investigation of Vos’s remarks. Current state law prohibits public officials from promising to give or withhold official action based on campaign contributions or support. It’s a good law. Now let’s enforce it.

(December 2014 Union Labor News)

Statement by Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt on Wisconsin’s Right to Work Organization

i Dec 1st No Comments by


Republican Extremists Trash Conservative Brand

i May 20th No Comments by

Conservatives didn’t do well in Madison’s spring elections.

Here, as in much of the country, it is a brand that has been thoroughly trashed by extremist Republicans who are conservative in name only.

Many readers of this paper have traditionally defined themselves as conservative, believing that to “conserve” means to keep what you have.

Republican extremists have worked tirelessly over the last few decades to do the opposite, and have been increasingly effective at taking the Republican Party with them. Here are some examples:

Voting rights. Maybe you get to keep yours; maybe not. The roadblocks extremists are throwing in the way of voting go far beyond what the Wisconsin legislature just passed. In some luckless countries around the world, voters wait in line the entire day just to cast a ballot then can’t even be sure it will be counted. Kathy Nickolaus, who just resurfaced as the new clerk-treasurer for the Town of Waukesha, personally counted the ballots in Waukesha County for a decade, and Diebold voting machines may or may not come with vote totals pre-installed, but the extremists only seem to care about voter impersonation, which has yet to happen. True conservatives understand the danger of applying the heavy hand of government to your voting rights.

Local control. There’s not much that’s conservative about taking away the rights of people to control what goes on their own neighborhoods. When the Milwaukee County Board voted to provide a living wage of $11.33 an hour for people working with and for the county, the immediate response of the extremists in power in Madison was to hold legislative hearings to try to take it away. When people around proposed mining sites tried to make sure they could maintain clean water and a healthy environment, the legislature similarly intervened. The interests of the extremists are simply not those of ordinary citizens.

Health care. The number of Americans who have gained health insurance under President Obama is strikingly similar to the number who lost it under President Bush. George W. Bush is a politician who ran as a conservative (albeit a “compassionate” one), governed as a conservative, then was disowned by people who continue to call themselves conservatives. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker did all he could to make sure fewer people were covered under the new health care law. Maybe that could be construed as conservative if it saved money. It didn’t. His refusal to participate ensured that Wisconsin citizens would send their money to Washington but receive little of it back.

Jobs. The extremists remain unapologetic about their opposition to saving the auto companies during the Great Recession. Had they been in power nationally at the time, they would have cut loose millions of jobs. In Wisconsin we have an extremist governor who not only is clueless about how to create jobs, he’s unable to help us keep what we have. In the coming campaign, you will see many ads trying to obscure the fact that he is among the worst governors in the nation when it comes to jobs. Now he’s faced with the dubious choice of convincing people that he really isn’t completely inept or that his pledge to create jobs wasn’t really that important.

Public schools. After taking more than a billion dollars away from Wisconsin schools, forcing massive cuts in pay and benefits on school workers, and taking away teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, what else could these non-conservatives do? How about continuing to push for privatization, this time in the form of using special education students as pawns? How about continuing to let privateers like the Life Skills Academy take your tax dollars with virtually no state oversight? How about trying to anoint politicians to write school curriculum? Conservative? Seriously?

Secession. Republican extremists want Wisconsin to have the option to leave the United States of America. They are voting on it at their annual convention. Sadly, they have no clue how far out of step they are with both patriotic conservatives and liberals. But they are now in charge of a Republican party which once stood strong for this country.

Unions. If to conserve means to try to keep what you have, unions plead guilty. The failed attempt to organize workers at the Tennessee Volkswagen plant shows how far the extremists have moved. It was them versus the union AND the auto company. This time the extremists won.

The extremists didn’t win all of the battles they fought. The living wage ordinance that passed in Milwaukee was not overridden. Special education students will not be privatized. Wisconsin politicians will not be writing curriculum for your children. Not yet.

One politician who won’t be returning to office is Republican State Senator Dale Schultz. One of the main reasons Schultz chose not to run for re-election was that extremists recruited a high-profile, well-financed candidate to run against him. Schultz is a conservative. But he is not an extremist. The current Republican Party in Wisconsin has no room for people like him.

If they can replace him with one of their own, they may yet get to implement their wish list—and much more. But it’s not a conservative wish list.
(May 2014 Union Labor News)

Minimum wage fight shows arrogance of power (Union Labor News editorial)

i Mar 5th No Comments by

Workers making at or near the minimum wage need all the help they can get. That’s why Milwaukee County’s ordinance establishing an $11.33 minimum wage for its workers and for those businesses contracting with the county is a good thing. The shameful attempt by Republican Representative Chris Kapenga to dismantle it  (and other historically successful local policies) is disturbing on many levels.

The chaos surrounding the introduction of AB750 is inexcusable, but it is what we have come to expect from a Republican legislature drunk on its own power.

What’s most disturbing about this latest attack on workers is the set of arrogant assumptions underpinning it. There are at least four.

We know what’s best for you. The Milwaukee ordinance passed by a two-thirds majority and is likely to survive a veto attempt by the county executive. Never mind. Republicans believe those at the state level are wiser and better equipped to decide than those closer to the issue. Many of us are old enough to remember when Republicans believed the opposite. The tone is also patronizing. “You cannot raise one person up by pulling another down,” lectured Kapenga. Yes we can. But that’s not what’s happening here. (more…)

Come to Senate hearing on minimum wage

i Feb 28th No Comments by

The bill taking away local control for minimum wage is on the fast track in the Wisconsin Legislature. Republicans in the Assembly hurriedly held a hearing on Feb. 12 and the bill has already passed in that body. We need to stop it in the Senate. The hearing on SB626 will be held Monday, March 3 at 11:00 am in Room 411 South of the Capitol. Please join us there.