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Wisconsin and State-workers Unions

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Andrew Vaz
November 17, 2015

I have worked in many different occupations: mailroom sorter, airline attendant, store floor supervisor. In the majority of jobs I had over the course of my young life, I had the privilege of a union. However, many perceive unions negatively. This negative perception stems back to the early 1980s and the war against unions waged by President Ronald Reagan.

Unions - Vaz

As Ellen Bravo wrote in a Huffington Post blog, “A hallmark of democracy is the ability of workers to come together to bargain collectively and have a voice at work.” My experience with unions, whether in the public or private sectors, has been great. In fact, the political influence unions possess is what keeps anti-worker legislation from being passed. I have experienced it; the political power our unions have is beneficial for all of us.

I do not live in Wisconsin. That state is an interesting animal. Arguably, Wisconsin is one of the most active union states in the country. Yet, it is controlled by an anti-union governor.

Former presidential hopeful Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has led a fight in his state against public-sector unions. In his campaign, Walker pointed to cutbacks workers faced in the private sector and declared public sector workers needed to be cut down a peg. As Bravo pointed out, Walker’s problem was not the “bloated corporations and overpaid executives.” The problem was the public school teachers, home healthcare workers and snowplough drivers. Walker’s goal went far beyond asking for more sacrifices from public sector workers. He was out to destroy the power of their unions. 

Walker then went after paid sick days. Bravo wrote,

“Nearly 70 percent of the voters there said “Yes” in 2008 to a ballot initiative that was then upheld by the courts. But Walker opposed it and used his power to destroy it. At the behest of corporate lobbyists, including Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, Walker’s allies in the legislature rammed through a bill prohibiting local units of government or voters from deciding to expand protections for their own communities. The governor then signed into law a bill, declaring that “Patchwork government mandates stifle job creation and economic opportunity.” 

Walker also supported efforts to end early voting and same-day voter registration. He also supported a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks even in cases of rape or incest. Bravo also adds that Walker favors allowing a man to sue a woman he impregnates who decides to have an abortion.

But why is Governor Scott Walker and the state of Wisconsin so important to the discussion of public-sector union politics? Walker took on the public-sector unions in Wisconsin and defeated a recall effort that meant he had to win three statewide elections in the span of four years. In addition, what Walker has proposed in his anti-union agenda is unprecedented. No elected official has gone to this length to eradicate the power of unions in this country.

Earlier, I mentioned President Reagan and his war against unions. Even he did not go as far as Governor Walker, about which pro-union associations and those affiliated with them should be concerned. If an anti-union governor can survive three elections and go on to run for president, union rights could be in jeopardy down the line. As a pro-union advocate, I suggest it is time to for all of us to take a stand against the rise of ‘right-to-work’ legislation and fight for our biggest asset in the workforce—our unions.


Author: Andrew R Vaz, M.S., M.P.A. is a graduate of the Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Master of Public Administration double master’s program at Florida International University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

2 Responses to Wisconsin and State-workers Unions

  1. Julie Ann Racino Reply

    November 18, 2015 at 11:56 am

    For Scott Walker: The Public Administration group has wholistic government (public good)as opposed to special interest lobbying groups.

    The “school teachers” (which are one part of state education departments) and the “home health care workers” (which often claim to be our personnel, also out of education) should be referred back to their unions or workforces.

    As an example, elementary school teachers are city budget employees, home health care may be non-profit or county employees, and aides may be part-time with no one seeking benefits. Unions and collective bargaining are often federal or state unions and the workers in the non-profit sector may have refused to join.

    Public administrators who are educated (not whom you all often hire, on your staff or legislative or Exec offices) work at federal-state and local levels, as a complex fields requiring 2-4 year degrees. The Governors thus do not have complex plans for business and industry, health and human services but often allow the federal or national levels to plan for them.

  2. Brynne VanHettinga, J.D., M.P.A., Ph.D Reply

    November 18, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for this article.

    There is indeed a war on workers, and it extends to all levels and branches of state and federal government. I could literally write a dissertation about the hostility toward people who work for a living and employee rights cases among the federal judiciary. In a NY Times Op-Ed aptly titled “Race to the Bottom”(Dec. 23, 2008), Bob Herbert lamented that, “If we see teachers and auto workers as out enemies, we are in serious need of an attitude adjustment.”

    If things continue as they are, all (or most) of us will continue to work harder for less, year after year. We will be poorer as individual workers and collectively as citizens. Our collective impoverishment is being accomplished by a sophisticated propaganda machine that attempts to convince us that what’s good for corporate fat cats and Wall Street is good for “everyone”.

    Either with or without unions, ALL of us need to be having this conversation about the degradation of our livelihoods and civic life.

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