The ruling might not have eased tension in a state that by now is all too used to it. But it went a long way in clarifying the situation. Last Friday, on January 18, a federal appeals court in Chicago, by a 2-1 margin, upheld the entirety of a Wisconsin law passed in 2011 that repealed most collective bargaining for state and local government employees. In overturning a lower court decision of last March, the three-judge panel concluded the legislation, Act 10, did not violate public-sector unions' constitutional right to free speech or equal protection. The ruling thus removes a major obstacle to Republican Governor Scott Walker's program to improve his state's fiscal condition.
The increasing overlap of labor and political activism is an insidious form of public corruption in this country. It enables union officials to deemphasize their role of representing workers at the bargaining table in favor of advocating policies to socialize the economy, building incestuous relationships with politicians, and fattening their bank accounts. This tendency was heavily felt in 2012, a presidential election year. Union leaders recognized the need to re-elect their ally and benefactor, President Barack Obama, over someone a wealthy Republican with a strong business background; i.e., someone they truly could despise. They got what they wanted. In the process, they further built a political infrastructure. Yet union leaders also experienced reversals of fortune at the state level - most of all, in Michigan - where they had been used to getting their way.
"The unbridled growth of crony unionism and government corruption will destroy the United States as we know it." This statement may strike many as sheer hyperbole. But its author, Mallory Factor, a political scientist at The Citadel, knows whereof he writes. His new book, "Shadowbosses: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind" (New York: Center Street), makes a credible case, and a well-sourced one, that our country may be in the early stages of a ruinous dystopia, courtesy of public-sector unions. In pursuing their interests, argues the author, these labor organizations hold taxpaying citizens hostage to unsustainable wage/salary, pension, health care and other contractual commitments. Municipal bankruptcy filings this year by San Bernardino and Stockton, Calif. may be a mere taste of things to come.
In Wisconsin, the conflict between public-sector unions and the administration of Republican Governor Scott Walker continues, ever assuming a new form - and this time a new victor. The latest round belongs to the unions. Last Friday, September 14, Wisconsin Circuit Judge Juan Colas (Dane County) struck down limits enacted in March 2011 on state and local employee collective bargaining power, arguing the law was unconstitutional on federal and state grounds. The decision enables city, county and school district employees to revert to their earlier situation; state employees, for the most part, are unaffected.
To his sworn enemies, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker's victory last Tuesday over Democratic challenger Tom Barrett by 53 to 46 percent has been hard to spin and to accept. The biggest loser, aside from Barrett himself, is the state's public-sector labor unions. There's not much getting around it. It was public-sector unions who led the effort to recall Walker following passage by the legislature over a year ago of a fiscal reform package that included several tough limitations on collective bargaining power. Unions and allied groups by this January gathered nearly a million signatures to put a recall on the ballot.
Unions for many years have been a highly reliable segment of the Democratic Party Left. Yet this perhaps no more was this true than in 2011 - and with good reason. The year began with the Republicans holding a nearly 50-seat edge in the House of Representatives following the GOP's smashing wins in the November 2010 midterm elections. Avoiding legislative process became a top priority for organized labor.
Public-sector unions in Wisconsin are having a hard time hiding their rage over the most recent round in the state's fiscal war. Last Tuesday, June 14, by a 4-3 margin, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a new law curbing collective bargaining rights for most state and local employees, part of a larger (passed) budget bill. The decision overturns a permanent injunction issued May 26 by Dane County (Madison) Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi blocking the law on grounds that Senate Republicans violated the state Open Meetings Law.
There is nothing unusual about a judge invalidating a law on procedural grounds. But the ruling last week overturning Wisconsin's new law restricting collective bargaining rights for state and local government employees might even fall short on a technicality test. Supporters of embattled Republican Governor Scott Walker are saying as much in the wake of Dane County (Madison) Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi's decision last Thursday, May 26 that the conference session to move the legislation to a full-floor Senate vote this March violated the state's Open Meetings Law.
Wisconsin Senate Democrats can come out of hiding. Yesterday evening, an all-Republican Senate passed by an 18-1 margin a plan by GOP Governor Scott Walker to restrict public-sector union bargaining rights. The bill, stalled by Democrats who fled the state to block a mandatory quorum, today went to the GOP-controlled Assembly, which approved the measure a few hours ago by 53-42.
A brief comment of mine was included today in a report by Peter Overby on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. Here's a transcript:
The fight over public employee unions has exploded into a high-stakes partisan war. In Wisconsin and several other states, Republicans want to end collective bargaining with many public employee unions. Two favorite proposals would disrupt the ability of unions to build their political funds. And that would deal a major blow to the Democratic Party.