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Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel


A Key National Test of Labor's Power Coming this Spring in Wisconsin

April 14, 2012

By Daniel DiSalvo

The recall election of Gov. Scott Walker will be the epicenter of the American political world this spring. Huge sums of money will pour into the Badger State. Some analysts predict that more than $100 million could be spent.

Walker is now out in front in the fundraising game, having scooped up almost $13 million. But his lead will evaporate quickly for two reasons. First, the Democratic Party has yet to pick a candidate. Once Democrats do, Walker’s opponents will have a place to channel their resources.

Second, and more important, the public employee unions that will support Walker’s opponent enjoy a number of advantages over other groups when it comes to raising money and mobilizing political activists.

Last year, the unions spent more than $20 million trying to recall six Republican state senators who had voted for the bill restricting collective bargaining for most public employees. In Wisconsin politics, that is a huge amount of money to raise and spend in such a short period. By comparison, it is just short of the total amount spent by both sides in the 2010 race for governor.

Public employee unions in more than half the states benefit from "agency shop" laws that require workers covered by collective bargaining agreements - even those who refuse to join the union - to pay an "agency fee" for the benefit of the representation that the union provides. In effect, agency shop laws compel workers to join unions.

Public-sector unions also benefit from the steady supply of funds provided by "dues check off" rules, which require governments to withhold union dues from their employees and pay the money directly to their unions (Walker eliminated this in Wisconsin.) This guarantees an abundant and reliable source of cash, sparing unions the need to raise funds.

A stable membership and a guar anteed supply of money set public sector unions apart from other interest groups. Most organizations expend significant resources hustling for both. The unions’ remarkable political power stems from this advantage.

In 2010, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees reportedly boasted 1.6 million members and an income of $212 million; the National Education Association had 3.2 million members and received $398 million; and Service Employees International Union had 2.1 million members and $319 million in revenue. Many already predict that organized labor, led by these public employee unions, could spend more than the existing record of over $450 million on the 2012 elections.

These national unions, along with their in-state affiliates, will be contributing heavily to Walker’s eventual opponent. One contender for the Democratic nomination, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, already has pledged not to sign a budget that does not overturn Walker’s public-sector labor reforms.

Ultimately, the unions’ hope is that Democrats can take back control over both the governorship and the state Senate, leaving only the Assembly as the final barrier to returning to the pre-Walker status quo. Such an outcome would have serious negative impacts on Wisconsin’s fiscal future, as the state is reporting a budget surplus for the first time in 15 years and job creation has finally picked up.

Walker’s defeat also would have a chilling effect on attempts by governors and mayors in other parts of the country to drive a hard bargain with their public employee unions. Unless politicians believe that they can survive confrontation with public employee unions, there is little hope for future reforms that decrease cost and increase efficiency of government services.

This spring, Wisconsin will put that proposition to the test.

Original Source:



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