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Unions Prepare for Fall in Wisconsin

We’ve been following the race in the Wisconsin effort to recall Governor Scott Walker because in our view this is the most important election in America before the Big One in November.

We still hold to that belief, but this thing is looking less like a race and more like a coronation. With only two weeks left before the election, popular betting site Intrade gives Walker a 90 percent chance of winning—up about 25 points from his showing last week.

Driving those Intrade numbers is a series of polls showing Walker with a steady and even growing lead. Beyond the raw numbers, Walker’s supporters seem to be even more energized than his Democratic supporters. There’s still time for Walker to make some kind of career-destroying gaffe or for some other unpredictable event to throw the race into chaos, but so far the momentum is all going his way.

Republicans and blue dog Democrats all over the country will scrutinize the election returns with great care. If Walker holds on, look for more attacks on public union bargaining rights in other cash strapped states. Labor put everything it had into this one; if it comes up short the political landscape will have changed.

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  • thibaud

    ” If Walker holds on, look for more attacks on public union bargaining rights in other cash strapped states”

    Someone’s cherry-picking results rather than doing serious analysis. The results in Ohio were the exact opposite.

    Given that Gov. Kasich’s anti-collective bargaining bill called SB5 was blown out of the water by a 62-38 margin, it seems at least as likely as not that there will be no more forays down the anti-collective bargaining path.

    Also odd that the author cites Intrade when it agrees with his thesis and ignores it when it doesn’t – case in point, about that rather more important election later this year:

  • C Philips

    Correction: Bargaining privileges, not “bargaining rights”.

    Public employee unions are fundamentally wrong. Because their members vote and contribute time and money to political campaigns, they effectively sit on both sides of the bargaining table. This is simply not fair.

  • david

    Agreed on the Kasich point.

    On the other hand, Obama has fallen more than 5 percentage points on InTrade in the past few weeks.

  • Mark Michael

    There’s no question that the R’s in the Ohio legislature and governor’s office are afraid to tackle the collective bargaining business again after the repeal of SB 5 last November. They are going to hide under their desks until after the November presidential election. See how that turns out.

    A difference between Ohio and Wisconsin is that Gov. Walker exempted police and firemen from his Act 10 Law. SB 5 in Ohio did not. Hence, Gov. Kasich and the R’s in the legislature earned the ire of those irstwhile allies who support R’s more so than other state workers. Police and firemen were a big reason SB 5 got trounced so badly.

    I would point out that Tea Parties are pushing ahead to put a statewide right-to-work resolution on the ballot in Ohio. I doubt they’ll get enough signatures to make it for this fall’s election, but most likely it will get on in 2014. Polls showing it passing by comfortable margins.

    Indiana’s legislature passed a right-to-work law and Mitch Daniels signed it. Ohio now feels pressure to “level the playing field” when competing for new business to move in with neighboring Indiana.

    Indiana also ended collective bargaining for their state workers by executive order 6 years ago. So they already had what Walker got in 2011 and now faces that recall election as a result.

    For my money, Walker will win going away, based on what little I can tell from reading various WI sources. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsed Walker over Barrett this past week. Barrett is mayor of Milwaukee and the JS is a liberal paper, yet they strongly endorsed Walker. (Okay, they endorsed him over Barrett in 2010, also.)

  • Kenny

    With public sector labor down, and with even the likes of the teachers union looked at as parahias, it is time to go for the knockout blow to unions –on the state and federal level — with right-to-work laws and laws to hold union thugs accountable for the violence and crimes they commit.

    Put the unions away!

  • Ari Tai

    PATCO part deux.

    And unlike Mr. Reagan who had a “hot spare” – a fully capable military air traffic control system to fall back on, Mr. Walker has had to stare down the unions on his own. Seems we’ve forgotten that the most selfless thing to do, the hard thing to do is most often the right thing to do.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Yeah!!! The Labor Gang leg of the Blue Model sure has been taking a beating lately. They are totally on the defensive and just trying to hang on their extortion derived gains. It will be a good day when the last of these Labor Gang Monopolies are broken up, and the feedback of full competition returns to the labor markets.

    The feedback of competition is responsible for the continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price in the Capitalist system. And it is the lack of the feedback of competition that causes the failure of Communism, Socialism, Marxism, and Big Government Monopolies everywhere and every time.

  • Corlyss

    “We still hold to that belief, but this thing is looking less like a race and more like a coronation”

    Let’s not get carried away here. There’s thousands of ACORN and Union ballot-stuffers poised to mobilize to steal the election from Walker.

  • thibaud

    #4: “A difference between Ohio and Wisconsin is that Gov. Walker exempted police and firemen from his Act 10 Law. SB 5 in Ohio did not.”

    If collective bargaining by public employee unions is a betrayal of the public trust, then why does Gov. Walker think it’s OK for some public employees and not for others?

    Or is this really just a political stunt, a way of punishing some public employees while favoring others?

    The biggest problem in US state politics is what the former Gov. of California memorably called “pay to play.” Gov. Walker in WI is not eliminating pay to play; he’s enshrining it.

    You folks who applaud this transparently phony, selective, legally-dubious favor to the policemen’s union are being played for suckers.

  • Lorenz Gude

    I think WRM’s point about arithmetic prevails here. Both Ds and Rs are scaling back the level of state employee pensions. They have to – they haven’t got the money to pay them. My pension rises and falls on the level of the stock market. End of problem – except perhaps for me. 😉 The current crisis is the result of venal politicians as well as union greed. They both should be spanked soundly and put to bed without any supper!

  • David Drumheller

    I think that private sector unions are an important counterweight to corporate power. At least in theory (alas, the UAW has rather tested this theory to the limit), one would think they, too, have an interest in their industry’s survival, but just want more of the profits going to workers as against management (or shareholders). Given that the corporate entity as such is hardly a “laissez-faire” institution, I do not object to capitalist unions at all.

    Public unions, however, are a grotesque outrage, a neverending rip-off of statutorily unprivileged taxpayers. What economic incentive do they have to look out for the public good, the best use of scarce tax dollars? The public sector union exists for a single purpose: to extract the maximum amount of money (or benefits) from taxpayers. They have proven of late not to care in the least about any other issue, such as the health of government budgets, or any sort of compromise. In recessions, the private sector massively deleverages, whether in terms of redundant workers, or debts. This causes great hardships to individuals workers as well as investors.

    But what does govt do? Nothing! The public unions think their jobs, salaries, pensions, and perks should be untouchable. How is that fair – especially when bloated government payrolls are the chief source of state and municipal fiscal problems?!

    It is time to recognize, with FDR, that public unionization has been a profound mistake. We got along quite well without public unions all the way up to the early 1960s – after which the costs of govt have exploded everywhere.

    Govt unions should not be statutorily empowered (ie, abolish them). Govt workers have no more business being unionized than soldiers and navy sailors.

  • Joe

    Unions have traditionally been organizations for those working in dangerous industrial conditions (miners, heavy machinery, etc.) and make plenty of sense in that context. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense for policeman and firemen to unionize, and to be allowed to do so.

    On the other hand…teachers? State level administrative employees? How do these occupations warrant union representation? The simple fact is that most of these state unions exist in a bubble that’s long due popping – it already has for federal workers, and it never really existed for their white-collar civilian counterparts.

    As to the election, compare this to last year’s Prosser/Kloppenburg bout – I held out little hope for Prosser going into that election, but he did pull it out by the narrowest of margins. The “silent majority” has been the true power in WI the last couple of years, even if we don’t all have time to carry silly signs about the Capitol lawn.

  • f1b0nacc1


    You mistake pragmatism for intention. Walker was smart enough to divide and conquer with his move against the collective bargaining abuses represented by public employee unions, and split off the cops and firefighters from the more egregious leeches in the other unions. Once the power of the public sector unions is broken (and the faliure of this recall will go a long way towards that), there will be ample opportunity to return to finish the job. Simply acknowleging political reality (i.e. ridding the state of Wisconsin of all public sector unions was too big a job to tackle all at once) isn’t a betrayal of principle, however much you would like to paint it as such.

    Walker will win in June, and the time of backbone of union resistance to reform in Wisconsin has been broken. Wars (and make no mistake about it, this is a war) are not won with one battle, Walker seems to understand this in a way that Kaisich does not. THAT is the difference between Wisconsin and Ohio.

  • Joe

    Let’s face it – this recall is an attempted putsch and nothing else.

  • Mark Michael

    Re: Exempting police and firemen from the Act 10 law

    A practical point is that they are a small fraction of the total number of state government workers covered by collective bargaining. I looked them up for Ohio at the time of SB 5 passage, but I’ve now forgotten the precise percentage. I think it was under 7% of the state workers.

    Also, their pay is not out of line with other state workers. They (usually) can retire early – in their 50’s while other workers have to work longer than that. The teachers in Ohio can retire after 37 years at 100% of the average of their 3 highest years of pay! That’s hardly a hardship situation for classroom teachers. If you start at 22, you can retire at 59 with your full pay! Ohio will be extending that shortly, though, since it’s not sustainable.

    So, if exempting police and firemen allow you to eliminate collective bargaining for the other 650,000 state workers, it’s a great tradeoff IMO. The amount of money saved over many years will be enormous.

  • thibaud

    @ fib – “ridding the state of Wisconsin of all public sector unions was too big a job to tackle all at once”

    What does this mean, exactly? It’s not administratively or legally more difficult to eliminate the carveout. I take it you merely mean that the political opposition would have been overwhelming had he not pandered to the cops.

    How is this fair or proper? Why do policemen get a pass?

    (We’ve actually seen this approach in San Jose CA, where nearly half the budget now goes to pay the policemen’s pensions.)

  • Tom

    @thibaud: Because most Americans see cops and firefighters as people who keep ordinary folks safe while undergoing great risk to their lives and health. Teachers and DMV workers, to most Americans, do neither.
    Whether this is a right attitude or not is irrelevant to the politics of the matter.

  • f1b0nacc1


    I will pay you the courtesy of presuming that you are not as naive as your question (#16) suggests. Tom says it best…cops and firefighters are seen by most voters (with some reason) as necessary and useful…public school teachers and the multitude of government clerks and assorted leeches, not so much. Whether it is ‘fair’ (what a silly word) or proper is another debate, but it is certainly politically practical to split the cops and firefighters off of the larger public sector union monolith before taking it on. Walker’s success in WI (as opposed to Kaisich’s difficulties in OH) demonstrates this quite neatly.

  • thibaud

    @ Mark #15 – “they are a small fraction of the total number of state government workers covered by collective bargaining. … I think it was under 7% of the state workers. Also, their pay is not out of line with other state workers”

    Fair enough; if this is true, that changes the picture, and with it, my view of Walker’s approach.

    My view was based on an assumption that WI had the same whacked, police-piggy ratios that I see in my own city: police benefits + pay being totally out of line with anyone else’s ($150k on average!) AND police pensions consuming an unbelievable.

    If compensation for police officers, firemen, and state troopers is as moderate/ordinary as you say, then I stand corrected.

    @#18 fibster: “cops and firefighters are seen by most voters (with some reason) as necessary and useful…public school teachers … not so much”

    Cops who bully pols in order to extort annual average compensation of $150k a year, as they do in San Jose, would fit a reasonable person’s definition of “leeches.”

    Re. teachers, maybe you’re just indulging in the usual blog m.o. of smirk’n’sneer, but I doubt there are any intelligent, well-informed parents who think teachers are not engaged in “necessary and useful work.”

    I know it’s the fashion among right-wingers on these boards to bash them for others’ – mainly the parents’ – failings, but in reality, for all their failings, public teachers no less than cops are doing a very hard job with little in the way of gratitude from the public.

    There are probably as many lazy/inept cops as there are lazy/inept teachers. But that doesn’t in any way diminish the difficulty of the job, or the great and urgent need the public has for good cops and good teachers.

    Does that mean Walker shouldn’t take on silly and exorbitant benefits and compensation practices by the teachers’ union? Of course not. Asking them to pay some portion of their health premiums is reasonable and prudent.

    But there’s a difference between asking teachers to do their part and bashing teachers, and when the latter becomes seen as the clear preference for so many GOPers, you’re not going to see the electoral success you imagine.

    The problems of our public school system have very little to do with the teachers’ union generally, and next to nothing to do with teacher compensation in particular. The main problem is cultural, and it resides with the parents and the students, not the teachers.

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