February 21, 2011

Professors Divided Over Changes To Wisconsin Collective Bargaining

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SB-11, a budget repair bill introduced by Republican Governor Scott Walker on Feb. 15, will change collective bargaining laws for most public employees, upsetting many Wisconsin workers. The bill also requires that public employees make a 5.8 percent pension contribution and a 12.6 percent health insurance contribution.Walker introduced the bill to try to establish a business climate suitable for private sector growth, according to a Feb. 15 press release. He hopes to create 250,000 new jobs by the end of his first term, according to the release.“[The bill] makes the tough decisions necessary to move toward the goal of private sector job creation,” he stated.Among the changes the bill will make to collective bargaining, unions will be limited to bargaining over base wages and will not be able to negotiate new raises beyond the rate of inflation without a statewide referendum.In addition, the bill requires that unionized workers re-vote every year on whether to continue allowing their union to represent them.Under the bill, employers would no longer deduct union members’ dues from their pay checks. Instead, members would file dues separately. Furthermore, non-members do not have to pay agency fees — their version of dues —  to receive the same benefits as those who pay the union.Prof. Patrick Wright, industrial and labor relations, said the bill is a necessary step toward balancing state budgets.He stressed, however, that altering public sector benefits is not enough and encouraged state governments to address non-labor related costs as well.The bill has stirred national uproar, with 30,000 protesters filling Madison, Wis., on Saturday.“[The bill] is a politically motivated attack on workers,” said Prof. Rebecca Givan, industrial and labor relations.She said many of the collective bargaining revisions are designed not to fix budget issues, but rather to break unions and keep them out of politics. Givan referred to annual representation elections, which she said detract funds from unions’ outside political work, as an example.Givan expressed concern that the elimination of dues deductions and mandatory agency fees — a key source of funding for union administration — in Wisconsin could inspire similar private sector legislation in Northern states.  Prof. Nick Salvatore, industrial and labor relations, echoed Givan’s sentiment. He referred to a bill similar to SB-11 that the Ohio state legislature is currently considering.“There has been a history in many states of negotiations, which have not considered the future [that] has been exacerbated by the financial crisis. Walker is using the unions as a scapegoat,” Salvatore said.  From a historical standpoint, however, Salvatore said he was more concerned with Walker’s reference to the National Guard in a speech addressing protests to the bill.“The National Guard has rarely been a neutral player in labor relations,” Salvatore said.Prof. Joseph McCartin, history, Georgetown University, who specializes in labor history, stated in an e-mail that he regards Walker’s discussion of National Guard as an unfortunate “bit of political theater.”“Wisconsin has a painful labor history associated with state troops. In 1886, a group of state militiamen fired into an unarmed crowd of strikers in Milwaukee, killing several,” McCartin said. “Whether intended to or not, the governor’s action invoked this painful memory.”McCartin said he sees the bill as part of a trend from bipartisan support for collective bargaining rights.In addition to protesters in Madison, an AFL-CIO press release stated that 50 solidarity events in 29 states are planned for the coming week.

Original Author: Matthew Rosenspire