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An Important Read For Labor Unions & Their Members: Wisconsin's Public Sector Unions Plot To ‘Fight Back’ As Supreme Court Case Looms

Steven Greenhouse Reports For The Guardian: Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 Dealt A Crippling Blow To Unions’ Funding & Powers, Forcing Them To ‘Rethink’ How To ‘Spread Their Message’ Of Collective Action

Published Tuesday, January 5, 2016
by Steven Greenhouse/

(MADISON, WISCONSIN) - Wisconsin’s Labor Leaders cheered when their nemesis, Governor Scott Walker, dropped out of the Republican Presidential Campaign last September.

Walker’s Anti-Union message failed to catch fire the way it did four years ago, when he pushed through legislation that hobbled Public Employee Unions.

But while Walker’s political ambitions may have been thwarted, four years on Wisconsin’s Public Sector Unions remain humbled too.

With Walker’s hard-won 2011 law crippling their ability to bargain and diminishing their ranks, the State’s Public Employee Unions are struggling to figure out how to increase their Strength, Membership and Collective Voice.

The plight of Wisconsin’s Unions could point the way for Public Employee Unions Nationwide if the Supreme Court, in a closely watched case to be heard on January 11th, prohibits any requirement that Government Workers pay any fees to the Unions that represent them.

Paul Spink, who serves as President of the Wisconsin branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said his Union is pushing hard to reverse its Walker-induced slide by explaining to Workers how much Unions can help them and why they should join and pay dues.

For Spink’s Madison-based Union, this is not a minor matter - it has lost two-thirds of its Members and funding since the Republican-Controlled State Legislature enacted the Anti-Union Bill, Act 10, notwithstanding protests by tens of thousands of Union Members.

“When we talk to ‘potential’ Union Members, we explain: ‘Your working conditions aren’t going to get better unless we act as a unit, as a Union,’” Spink said. “We have to ‘relearn’ the ‘lessons of Labor’ from the 1930s and 1940s – of ‘collective action’ and ‘collective message.’”

Laurel Patrick, Walker’s press secretary, said the law restricting Collective Bargaining aimed to tackle large budget deficits and stand up to special interests.

Indeed, when Walker was pushing the legislation, he said in a speech that enraged Union Members: “We can no longer live in a society where the Public Employees are the ‘haves’ and taxpayers who ‘foot the bills’ are the ‘have-nots.’”

Spink, a 39-year-old State Worker who inspects Childcare Centers, said Public Employees have become “easy scapegoats” for governors and mayors grappling with budget deficits.

“We ‘don’t have very good public relations,’ we ‘don’t have a very good public image,’” Spink said. “We ‘don’t know how to talk’ to our Members about what a Union ‘is for.’  ‘All that has to change.’”

With Act 10 crippling Unions at many State and City Agencies, Spink said that many Employees have become too scared to speak out about work problems and that many bosses have begun to pay scant attention to Worker concerns.

“Without a Union to protect you,” Spink said, “if you go into your boss and say, ‘You should change your policies, things should be better,’ then your boss says, ‘Would you like to pack your desk now or after lunch?’”

Spink said Public Employee Unions have to ‘convince’ the public that Workers’ - and ‘Unions’ - concerns are ‘also public concerns.’  Child Protective Services Workers now often have a caseload of fifty, he noted, and that’s ‘bad’ for the children, the Workers and the public.

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