Time to write eulogy for unions? No way
Is the labor movement dying because of Walker’s attacks or has the media jumped the gun? Reading the reports from some state media outlets, one might conclude it is time for labor to throw in the towel — give up, take a long walk on a short pier.
Walker would like that and so would Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which has been trying to get rid of unions for decades. They have not succeeded and it is unlikely they will “get lucky” in the current situation, so WMC and Walker should not hold their breath.
It is as if the unions have a bad cold, but it’s way short of pneumonia.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that membership in public sector unions is way down. My reading of the article is that Journal Sentinel believes that union members are on a permanent strike against the one force that has supported them through thick and thin. (Of course, no one would look for upbeat labor news in the Journal Sentinel.) I suggest the union movement will adjust and will not go away. The main reason is that unions are the backbone of the middle class and vice versa. You can’t have one without the other. (Even many nonmembers understand that all who work for a wage need unions to protect them even if they are not union members.) All workers get overtime pay, all of us enjoy weekends off — brought to you by unions. Most middle class union members have arbitration of grievances with an impartial arbitrator as a less expensive process than going to court.
Because of Act 10, thousands of regular members of public sector unions have taken a temporary hike, leaving the unions in some financial difficulty, but it is not time to call 911. It’s been tough slogging to be sure, but long-term things will change. Act 10 is not permanent.
Unions in our state seem to have the support of members and former members. Walker has not changed attitudes. He claims victory, but think again, governor. Think again. Who will speak for those caught with low pay, poor benefits, and a reduction in benefits if not unions?
The income gap is breathtaking. Will WMC speak out? No way! Walker has denied the recognized unions the right to engage in meaningful collective bargaining and Walker has denied unions the ability to collect dues the old-fashioned way through checkoff of dues. It is understandable that if unions cannot improve wages and benefits that some union members will question why they must pay dues. Soon enough management will provide the answer.
The unions face some speed bumps but no major detours. Perhaps labor needs more consolidation or possibly a clear platform for rebuilding our economy.
Possibly it is time to disrupt business as usual to gain support from union members who are appalled by the disparity between rich and poor. Walker apparently wants to destroy unions because he thinks it will help him in running for president. People will see through that trick.
Wisconsin has been a pioneer in promoting collective bargaining. AFSCME — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — was born here. Professor Nate Feinsinger was the national leader in finding peaceful solutions to problems in the workplace. Now Walker and pals place us in the line behind right-to-work states. I am not comfortable there and I am confident the middle class won’t be either. Attitudes on such major decisions don’t change overnight.
We are the state of Fighting Bob La Follette, not Scott Walker.
Back to my question. Is labor dying? Hell no.
Author: Ed Garvey
Ed Garvey is a Madison lawyer, political activist and the editor of the fightingbob.com website.