- Politics and Social Issues»
- Politics & Political Science
Union Activity in Wisconsin What Year is This
Union Activity in Wisconsin: What year is this?©
March 3, 2011
I was listening to the news the other night and I had to wonder what year I was living in, 2011 or 1803. I was caught in this time warp because in 1803, in the city of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia), there was a group of journeymen who were arrested, convicted, and fined for gathering together to influence their wages and working conditions (Cordwainers case). At the time the United States was operating off the English Common Law standard which stated that it was illegal for two or more people to meeting for the purposes of changing their station at work. When that practice was struck down in 1842, by the case of Commonwealth v. Hunt, the mechanism for blocking workers for expressing their situation was the Civil Conspiracy Doctrine. These tactics did not stop workers; it only leads to violent clash between labor and corporations. One of the most famous is the Homestead Incident, where the National Guard had to be called to secure the town, because of the explosive reaction of the strikers to the use of violence by the company.
Now the Governor of Wisconsin is using the threat of violence, by calling in the Wisconsin Army National Guard if anyone protests his plan to fix the State’s budget. In contrast, here is what the Chief of Police had to say about the protesters in Madison, “On behalf of all the law enforcement agencies that helped keep the peace on the Capitol Square Saturday, a very sincere thank you to all of those who showed up to exercise their First Amendment rights. You conducted yourselves with great decorum and civility, and if the eyes of the nation were upon Wisconsin, then you have shown how democracy can flourish even amongst those who passionately disagree.” With no threat of violence looming, the Governor’s first statement is to use the National Guard against his employees and citizens of the state.
It is ironic that the public unions have their roots in Wisconsin. The following is from the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees (AFSCME) web site. “The history of AFSCME began in 1932, as the country suffered through a severe economic depression, when a small group of white-collar professional state employees met in Madison, Wisconsin, and formed what would later become Wisconsin State Employees Union/Council 24. The reason for the group’s creation was simple: to promote, defend and enhance the civil service system. They also were determined to help spread the civil service system across the country.” 79 years of history of working together is being washed away. It is unrealistic to place all the blame of the state’s financial trouble on the backs of the workers. There exists a long history of poor economic decisions, by Republican, Democrat, and Independent politicians that has wasted more money or prevented the state from collecting revenue then the salary and benefits of employees.
Union history is one of pushing existing power structure for fair treatment of workers. Historically, union leadership came from the members of the working class who did not or could not stand to be treated poorly anymore. The relationship took on a David verse Goliath persona. David was the worker and the Goliath was the corporation. The Corporation held all the resources while the Union’s cause was righteous, or that is how the myth goes. What the Union had on their side and still does today is the worker. Controlling the worker means that they control the flow of production. However, that history is being replaced with a new image of unions. The image is that the need is gone, due in part to the labor laws in place. There are some who believe that all Unions are capable of doing is taking money. The following is an entry to the web site promoting the Unionization of Starbucks’ employees. “Starbucks does not need a union. The only thing unions do now is take money out of your paycheck. They have outlived their usefulness. With the difficulty management has finding employees to fill positions, that in itself is power. Don’t let some Union rep make you think they can do anything for you. They not only can’t, most of the time they won’t. The only thing they will do is take your dues out of your paycheck.” This is a popular agreement that does not have any factual data to support the claim, the proclamation is designed to place doubt in the minds of employee. In tough economic times, the question of where money is being spent is an effective tool.
There is a perception that labor unions, like civil rights legislation, have outlived its usefulness. The following is an announcement made by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on union participation. “In 2008, union members accounted for 12.4 percent of employed wage and salary workers, up from 12.1 percent a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of workers belonging to a union rose by 428,000 to 16.1 million. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.” Web sites like unionfacts.com claim that this drop in membership is proof that the workers no longer want to be represented by unions.
It is interesting that this site does not present any arguments why there is no longer a need for unions, only that unions are corrupt. Throughout anti-union propaganda, union leadership has gained the reputation of being corrupt and self-serving. This comes at the expense of the union members. The following is also off the unionfacts.com web site, which is addressing the number of Unfair Labor Practices (ULP), filled with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
“The vast majority of allegations said that members were the ones hurt by the union officials that are supposed to protect them.
The NLRB reported in 2005 that:
· Unions faced a total of 6,381 allegations
· 82% of charges against unions alleged illegal restraint and coercion of employees (by comparison, the leading allegation against employers — at 53% — was for refusal to bargain)
· 594 charges were for illegal union discrimination against employees”
The author of that article would have people believe that “the vast majority” of the Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) complainants filed were against unions. The conclusion they want the reader to draw from this information, is that union representation is actively working against the union population. However, a review of the 2005 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Annual reveals something different. “Alleged violations of the Act by employers were filed in 18,304 cases, a decrease of 8 percent from the 19,946 of 2004. Charges against unions decreased 8 percent to 6381 from 6917 in 2004.” While the information presented on the unionsfacts.com site is technically true, the manner in which the information is presented is misleading. Of all the complainants with the NLRB only 25.8% were against unions and the majority of those complaints were filed by businesses not individuals and only 2.4% of all claims filed were done by union members against union. “For the year, the NLRB awarded backpay of $83.8 million. Reimbursement for unlawfully exacted fees, dues, and fines added about another $475,929. Backpay is lost wages caused by unlawful discharge and other discriminatory action detrimental to employees, offset by earnings elsewhere after the discrimination.”
The other popular myth that has been promoted is that the only people who want to join a union are doing so to get out of work. They waste their time filing grievances or tying up management’s hand with insane work rules. Here is what one protester in favor of the Governor’s plan had to say about State Employees. In response to a Chicago Tribune article a reader writes, “We, the people, are paying your wages and we are getting ripped off by fat, lazy union workers who only keep their jobs because the ridiculous pensions they get.” The tacit is to vilify the state employee. There is no doubt that some employees take advantage of the rules in the CBA, but these same employees would stretch the rules that no matter what system of controls were in place. The fact of the matter is management and labor both have to sign the agreement, so management had a say in the design of the working rules to be enforced. The vast majority of people want to come to work, do their job to the best of their ability and go home.
Here are some facts about the State of Wisconsin Employees; the chart  is showing a comparison of workers in the state of Wisconsin by educational attainment. As the educational level increases, the disparity between private and public employee also increases. “The figure below shows that when comparing the total compensation (which includes non-wage benefits such as health care and pensions) of workers with similar education, public-sector workers consistently make less than their private–sector peers. Workers with a bachelor’s degree or more—which constitute nearly 60% of the state and local workforce in Wisconsin—are compensated between $20,000 less (if they just have a bachelor’s degree) to over $82,000 a year less (if they have a professional degree, such as in law or medicine).” There have been a couple of challenges thrown at the information provided by EPI. Most of them are easily explained by reading the information, how one cannot, which is the job security that comes with being a state employee. The argument goes that a tangible part of being a state employee is that is hard to fire them. There is no quantitative data that has been produced to support or discredit this claim.
What is really at stake here? “On Friday, union leaders in Wisconsin agreed to the part of Walker's bill that would require public employees to double their health insurance contributions and contribute 5.8 percent of their salary to their pensions. Walker has argued that concessions by public workers are necessary in order to help the state's financial situation.” Since the Unions were willing to make concessions, why does the Governor continue to insist on breaking the Union? In a taped conversation with Governor Walker, he demonstrates his unwillingness to talk about compromise. “Legally, we believe once they’ve gone into session, they don’t physically have to be there. They just have to be in session for that day and take a recess, and the 19 Senate Republicans could go into action and they’d have a quorum because they started out that way,” said Walker in the call. It is clear that he does not want to give the Democrats the opportunity to debate the issue.
In the same phone call, “Walker said he expected the anti-union movement to spread across the country and he had spoken with the governors of Ohio and Nevada. The man pretending to be Koch seemed to agree, telling Walker, "You're the first domino." "Yep, this is our moment," Walker responded.” This would indicate his motivation is to weaken the Union. He tried to justify his action by comparing himself to another Republican, “Walker compared his stand to that taken by President Ronald Reagan when he fired the nation's air-traffic controllers during a labor dispute in 1981. "That was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and led to the fall of the Soviets," Walker said on the recording.” Governor Walker needs to have a better understanding of history, a look at what happened with the air traffic controller’s strike shows that President Reagan was not successful in getting rid of a Union.
“Aug. 5, 1981: Most striking air-traffic controllers are fired. Reagan bans them from ever being rehired by the FAA. They are initially replaced by controllers, supervisors and staff personnel not participating in the strike and in some cases, by military controllers.
Aug. 17, 1981: The FAA begins accepting applications for new air-traffic controllers.
Oct. 22, 1981: The Federal Labor Relations Authority de-certifies PATCO. Later, new air-traffic controllers, hired in the wake of the strike, organize a new union to represent them, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
June 19, 1987: NATCA is certified as the sole bargaining unit for air-traffic controllers employed by the FAA.”
Note that even though President Reagan was successful in breaking the PATCO, within his administration PATCO was replaced with NATCA. In addition, the situation was very different between releasing striking air-traffic controllers and the breaking all government unions.
The moral of this story is not simple. But, keep in mind from the late 1800’s to the Great Depression marked a period in this country where the greatest disparity between the rich and poor existed and for all intents and purposes there was no middleclass. At the time there was no significant labor movement to challenge the treatment of employees. When unions were able to influence the working condition and wages of employee, we saw the creation of the middleclass and the greatest period of industrial growth in this country, creating wealth for both industry and the workers. Today with the decline of union membership, we are seeing a historical increase in the disparity between the rich and poor, with a decline of the middle class that we have not seen since the Great Depression. As a country, whether we want to admit it or not, there are two groups that significantly and consistently influence our political process, they are big business and labor. With the constant attacks and reduction of labor’s influence, the laws which are created to protect workers are also starting to erode. The misconception that labor unions have no place in today’s high tech workplace is wrong. Labor’s influence is not just regulated to industrial type job; labor role is to speak for the worker when there are abuses of power and disparities in the workplace.
Nevertheless, unions in public service have been here for over 79 years, and they are not going away. The union has to continue to work with the government for the betterment of the people of Wisconsin and the Governor needs to understand that strong-arm tactics will have short-term effects, but will not balance the budget.
 City of Madison News Release: SATURDAY'S CAPITOL SQUARE DEMONSTRATIONS: Law Enforcement Praises Protesters' Conduct. http://www.cityofmadison.com/news/view.cfm?news_id=2512. (accessed February 21, 2011)
 AFSCME: 75 Years of History. http://www.afscme.org/about/1028.cfm. (Accessed February 20, 2011)
 No need for union. http://www.starbucksunion.org/node/926
 UNION MEMBERS IN 2008. BLS. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm. January 28, 2009
 Unfair labor practices. http://unionfacts.com/articles/laborPractices.cfm
 Seventieth Annual Report of the National Labor Relations Broad: For the Fiscal Year ended September 30, 2005. Page 7
 IBID page 12
 Mayer, Jeff. Thousands of Wisconsin union workers protest budget plan. http://discussions.chicagotribune.com/20/chinews/sns-rt-usreport-us-wisconsitre71e7by-20110215/10. (Accessed February 26, 2011)
 Graph Source: http://www.epi.org/economic_snapshots/entry/wisconsin_public_servants_already_face_a_compensation_penalty/. (accessed February 26, 2011)
 Terkel, Amanda. Wisconsin Democratic Senators: We're Staying In Illinois Until Gov. Walker Agrees To Negotiate. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/20/wisconsin-democratic-senators-illinois_n_825748.html#107_gov-scott-walker-rejects-collective-bargaining-compromise. (accessed February 22, 2011)
 Democrats Wary Of Meeting Walker After Prank Call. http://www.channel3000.com/news/26995293/detail.html. (Accessed February 26, 2011)
Associated Press. On Prank Call, Wisconsin Governor Discusses Strategy. Posted February 23, 2011 at 9:26 a.m., updated February 23, 2011 at 2:22 p.m. http://www.courierpress.com/news/2011/feb/23/wisconsin-democrats-filibuster-delay-anti-union-bi/. (Accessed February 26, 2011)
 Timeline: America's Air-Traffic Controllers Strike. August 3, 2006. NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5599271. (Accessed February 23, 2011)
© 2011 Mark Monroe