I can’t see the problem, we should do this here

Wisconsin was once a union dominated state, that is until Scott Walker became governor and went to war on the unions.

Fairfax has an article today shows just how effective his union busting laws were.

At the old union hall here in the US city of King, Wisconsin, on a recent afternoon, Terry Magnant sat at the head of a table surrounded by 18 empty chairs. A members’ meeting had been scheduled to start a half-hour earlier, but the small house, with its cracked walls and loose roof shingles, was lonely and desolate.

“There used to be a lot more people coming,” said Magnant, a 51-year-old nursing assistant, sighing.

The anti-union law passed here four years ago, which made Governor Scott Walker a Republican star in America and a possible US presidential candidate, has turned out to be even more transformative than many had predicted.

Walker had vowed that union power would shrink, workers would be judged on their merits, and local governments would save money. Unions had warned that workers would lose benefits and be forced to take on second jobs or find new careers.

Many of those changes came to pass, but the once-thriving public-sector unions were not just shrunken – they were crippled.

Unions representing teachers, professors, trash collectors and other government employees are struggling to stem plummeting membership rolls and retain relevance in the state where they got their start.

When you give people a choice, they march…out of the unions…just like in New Zealand.

Magnant and her fellow union members, workers at a local veterans’ home, have been knocking on doors on weekends to persuade former members to rejoin. Community college professors in Moraine Park, home to a technical college, are reducing dues from US$59 (NZ$78) to US$36 (NZ$48) each month. And those in Milwaukee are planing a campaign using videos and posters to highlight union principles. The theme: “Remember”.

But recalling the benefits that union membership might have brought before the 2011 law stripped most public-sector unions of their collective-bargaining rights is difficult when workers consider the challenges of the present.

“I don’t see the point of being in a union anymore,” said Dan Anliker, a 34-year-old technology teacher and father of two in Reedsburg, a tiny city about 95 km northwest of Madison.

The law required most public employees to pay more for health insurance and to pay more into retirement savings, resulting in an 8 per cent to 10 per cent drop in take-home pay. To help compensate for the loss, Anliker said he took an additional 10-hour-a-week job.

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“Everyone’s on their own island now,” he said. “If you do a good job, everything will take care of itself. The money I’d spend on dues is way more valuable to buy groceries for my family.”

Sean Karsten, a 32-year-old middle and high school reading instructor in his first year of teaching in Reedsburg, said the unions are “just not something I concern myself with”.

“I just look to keep improving my teaching in the best way I can and try to keep my nose out of the other stuff,” he said.

Unions just aren’t relevant to a modern society. Left-wingers like to talk about how conservative are stuck in a dogma and political philosophy of the past and they make these claims without even a hint of irony. Even here in New Zealand they pine for the days of confrontation with the Police and the bosses like 1951.

Walker has pointed to the unions’ membership troubles as a victory – presenting himself as a conservative warrior unafraid of taking on big battles against liberal interests.

Walker administration budget analysts said forcing public employees to contribute more to retirement plans and health insurance helped local governments save US$3 billion (NZ$3.9b). He also credited the 2011 law with saving homeowners money on property taxes while giving school districts the ability to make reforms that boosted third-grade reading levels and high school graduation rates.

“We took the power away from the big government special interests and put it firmly in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers,” Walker told Iowa Republicans recently. “That is what we need more of in this great country. The liberals don’t like that.”

Which is why union dominated Labour will struggle to get traction.

Union officials declined to release precise membership data but confirmed in interviews that enrolment is dramatically lower since the new law was signed in 2011.

The state branch of the National Education Association, once 100,000 strong, has seen its membership drop by a third. The American Federation of Teachers, which organised in the college system, saw a 50 per cent decline. The 70,000-person membership in the state employees union has fallen by 70 per cent.

The decline is politically significant in Wisconsin, a presidential battleground where the unions have played a central role in Democrats’ get-out-the-vote drives.

John Ahlquist, a University of Wisconsin political scientist who specialises in labor movements, said Walker had “effectively dismantled the financial and organising structure of unions in Wisconsin”.

“Although it is too early to tell if unions are near the end of their political power here, they are in a very vulnerable position,” Ahlquist said.

The problem with unions is they are mired in the wreckage of the past. And just listen to the moaning.

At Magnant’s meeting in King on a frigid February afternoon, union members finally began trickling in, one by one, filling a few of the empty seats.

A groundskeeper at the veterans home complained that supervisors were no longer assigning overtime based on seniority because “there was no union”. Others complained that there were no longer enough nursing assistants on shifts, while management positions seemed to grow.

“This is what we are trying to live with,” Magnant said. “But we can’t continue like this.”

 

Oh no…overtime based on merit not seniority…terrible.

The working population knows what is right and what is not, and that is why Scott Walker remains popular.

It is quite the achievement to have subdued the teachers’ union.

 

– Fairfax

 

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