Category Archives: Anti-Union Rhetoric

Walker Admits the Obvious: Union Bill’s Changes “Are Indeed Fiscal”

In what should be a surprise to few if anyone, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker acknowledged what most, especially the critics of the state’s anti-union bill, understand–the bill that the Wisconsin Senate passed yesterday without having the necessary quorum or allotted time beforehand to vote on it is inherently fiscal in nature. In a highly debatable preface to yesterday’s controversial actions, in which the Senate stripped down the overtly fiscal provisions yet left the clearly implicitly anti-union fiscal provisions in place to pass the anti-union bill, Governor Walker stated at a press conference this morning, “We followed the law, and yet it allows us to move forward with these reforms — which are indeed fiscal.”

Since a Senate quorum is necessary to vote upon measures that are fiscal in nature, and given that Governor Walker has acknowledged the essentially fiscal nature of these anti-union measures ostensibly meant to cut state pension costs while, in actuality, the GOP Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald has admitted that the bill is meant to curtail the rights and political power of unions, it will be more than interesting to see how the eventual legal challenge to this act will stand up, if at all, in court. This is all the more so since Republican lawmakers claim to have acted within the rights of the conference committee not to have needed 24 hours advanced notice for the proceedings to legally occur.  However, this claim is highly debatable and subject to legal challenge.

Meanwhile, justice is served in the capitol as a score or so of nonviolent protesters were forcibly removed from the hallway leading to the capitol’s Assembly chambers.

As the late, great author Hunter S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” We’ve clearly moved into the ranks of professional political weirdness.

–Jason Kozlowski


Return to Blogging and Update

Sorry not to have posted much in the last week, but I have had much other work to do, was subbing at WEFT for a couple shows, and also had to deal with a downed laptop which presaged my getting a new (well, used, but very good) computer. While I still have to upload many files from the old laptop onto it, the new one is up and running, so it looks like as good a time as any to put up a new post, if even a short one. Many more should follow this week, with the usual allotment of links, as well as some of my own commentaries, which I had planned to add last week before the spate of heavy work and the computer problems.

Be sure to check out this very good story by Kate Zernike in yesterday’s New York Times on the Wisconsin protests and anti-union fight, complete with some excellent quotations from great historians such as Rosemary Feurer (author of the magisterial Radical Unionism in the Midwest, 1900-1950), Michael Kazin (author of the seminal work The Populist Persuasion), and William P. Jones (author of the wonderful The Tribe of Black Ulysses, a terrific book about black lumber workers). While I do think the story could have done more to explicate some of the right-wing forces at work, including popular anti-unionism in public discourse, it was really good for what space it did have.

Keep coming by for more stories and links on this and other labor stories.

–Jason Kozlowski


Repost: “From the Front Lines in Madison, WI”

(Hat tip to SEIU 73’s Ricky Baldwin for originally posting this, which I will gladly circulate)

Below is a very good summation and analysis by Kristine Mattis, a Ph.D. student at Wisconsin-Madison in Environmental Studies, of the situation in Wisconsin, especially regarding media portrayals of the protests and budget issues, and also skewering the anti-union animus and rhetoric that Gov. Walker (R/Tea Party) has ginned up to support his anti-union proposals. I will post it here in its entirety. Please read and circulate.

–Jason Kozlowski

Published on Sunday, February 20, 2011 by 

From the Front Lines in Madison, WI

by Kristine Mattis

As someone who has been involved in the protests in Madison for the past six days, I find the news media coverage of the momentous events in this town to in no way portray the reality of what is going on here. In their attempts to constantly be balanced, the news media seem to have lost all ability to be accurate.

The mass protests by unions and their allies that have occurred in Madison, WI, resulted after an abrupt announcement by Governor Walker late last Friday, Feb. 11, that he was introducing and fast-tracking a so-called “Budget Repair” bill, which would not only deeply cut benefits to public workers, but effectively strip unions of all of their collective bargaining rights. The response to the Governor’s move was rapid and in no way orchestrated or long-planned – there was absolutely no possible time for that. By late Monday, Feb 14, the WI state legislature announced a hearing of the bill in the Joint Finance Committee which was open for public testimony. It was then that unions and affected public sector workers began to try to organize to fight the bill.

Interestingly, members of the public, including myself, arrived early Tuesday morning to have our positions heard in the committee hearing on the bill. When the public testimony began, numerous media outlets were present to cover the proceedings. The media portrayed the hearing as a chance for “both sides” to have their voices heard, as if this were an even dispute between two viewpoints with equally numbered constituents. That was not the case. The clerk’s office documented testimony against the bill versus for the bill to be roughly 20 to 1, at least. Moreover, I know first hand that many of the bill supporters who spoke before and after I did had not been waiting in line with the rest of us. Where did they come from? They seemed to be placed into the queue somehow, conveniently, very early in the day when the media was present. As the proceeding wore on, few if any supporters of the bill were present at all.

These six days of protests have been completely non-violent and peaceful. There have been rumblings that protesters have “trashed” the capitol. That is completely false. Members of unions, particularly the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) and the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants’ Association (MGAA), have been regularly organizing volunteer crews to clean up trash and litter.

As crowds swelled from approximately 13,000 on Tuesday, to around 70,000 (some estimate 100,000) on Saturday, the media finally began to take notice. But curiously, most media outlets only began to show up when the Tea Party announced it plans for a counter-rally on Saturday. Contrary to sources, these Saturday rallies did not consist of a meeting of disputing views in virtually equally numbers, nor were they a “clash.” The Walker supporters numbered roughly 700-1000 at most, while the anti-bill, pro-union activists outnumbered them nearly 100 to 1. Furthermore, there was no violence and no confrontation between opposing sides. (But interestingly, it was the first day that the capitol police posted signs on the capitol building stating “No Firearms Allowed.”) The Tea Party contingent barely made a blip with their paltry turnout.

As far as the actual issue at hand, most media outlets merely mimicked the talking points repeated ad infinitum by Governor Scott Walker, and did no investigating into the veracity of his claims, nor any critical questioning about the situation in Wisconsin. Here are some facts:

1. The state of Wisconsin is not facing a financial crisis. Though specific numbers have been continually disputed and some even claim that the state faces a surplus at the end of the 2009-2011 budget, what is clear is that Wisconsin’s financial woes are moderate at most, and do not constitute a dire situation. The $3.6 billion shortfall that Walker keeps repeating is based on the State Budget Office Analysis which calculated the 2011-2013 biennial figures based on agency requests. These requests always exceed actual monies allocated. The 2011-2013 actual budget has not even come out yet. Walker is misrepresenting these details. Moreover, Governor Walker was unconcerned about budget matters when he offered over $140 million in tax incentives to out-of-state multinational corporations, but now he is suddenly unable to afford to take care of his in-state workforce. The “crisis” is manufactured.

2. The government employee unions bargained for and ratified contracts late last year that provided numerous concessions, including but not limited to freezes in compensation for two years and increased health insurance premiums. Unions are not opposed to “sacrifices”; in fact, they had ALREADY agreed to them.

3. The erosion of collective bargaining rights has nothing at all to do with the contrived “Budget Repair.” Stripping unions of their freedom to negotiate will do nothing to help alleviate deficits.

4. The workers in the private sector have not been voluntarily sacrificing for the public good; pay cuts and loss of benefits have been thrust upon them without any say on their part, precisely because they do not have unions to support them.

5. The rhetoric spewed by the right, such as “I lost my pension, so should you” is akin to saying “My legs were cut off, now yours should be, too.” Unionists would prefer that our legs not be cut off – and we would like to see all non-union workers walking again too. Our battle is for the rights of ALL workers, and our victories are YOUR victories. This is trickle-up economics – and it actually works.

6. Union workers are not lazy slackers; indeed they do some of the most difficult jobs imaginable, such as being home-health care workers, factory laborers, and teachers.

7. The gap between rich and poor started to increase in the 1970s and has reached its widest margin today. Coincidentally, during that same time period, massive tax cuts for corporations and for the wealthy have been mounting.

8. The people who have not sacrificed are the wealthy and corporations. They have the ability to repair these purported budget deficits, yet those who can barely make a decent living are instead called upon to lose what little they have. All the while, Wall Street flourishes and the rich continue to accumulate more and more of the financial wealth of the nation.

9. The struggle in Wisconsin is not about my union or any other union; it is class warfare, plain and simple. It is a battle for decent human rights and against the systematic, concerted and well-orchestrated effort to remove all the rights of workers in this country. Anyone and everyone who makes less than a six-figure income – i.e. the poor and middle class – should be outraged by this immoral and unjust bill and united in our effort to protect our right to a decent living.

Why is it that those who have never had to worry about money, never had to sacrifice, and never had to fight for anything in their lives continually get more and more while working folks get less and less? And why, inexplicably, do other working folks support this race to the bottom?

The corporatization of America has already occurred; now we are well into the third-worldification of America.

We Wisconsin workers are fighting for you and fighting for this country. We must win.

Kristine Mattis is PhD student in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison, and a member of the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA), the union of graduate employees. She was also previously a secondary school teacher and a member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA).


Gov. Walker: State Workers’ Union Benefits “Like A Virus”

In a caustic characterization of the benefits packages that Wisconsin state workers receive, Gov. Walker (R/Tea Party) said yesterday,

If we’re going to be in this together, (cut) our $3.6 billion budget deficit, it’s going to take a whole lot more than just employee contributions when it comes to pensions and health care. But it’s got to be a piece of the puzzle because as I saw at the local level, it’s like a virus that eats up more and more of the budget if you don’t get it under control.

A few things merit comment here. First, Walker continually discusses the deficit by referring to “$3.6 billion,” the total state debt, and not in the annual terms, which thanks to his $140 million in pet projects for businesses is $137 million for 2011.  This is a calculated effort to ratchet up fear by pointing to far larger numbers that, while accurate are, crucially, projected to possibly occur during 2011-2013 and far from unmanageable.  Also, Walker characteristically fails to note that Wisconsin state workers have already agreed to wage and benefit concessions, now and in recent years, with teachers and other state workers already having weathered wage freezes. This point is crucial, for it illustrates that union rights are the primary reason why these protests have grown so rapidly, while also puncturing the right-wing rhetoric characterizing unionized state workers as greedy–or their benefits as a “virus.” Unions are doing their part to “tighten their belts,” to quote President Obama’s pet phrase for workers’ sharing the financial pain, even as the wealthy and big businesses thrive.

Yet this choice of terms, “virus,” represents a continuation of at best diminution, and at worst connection of workers and their hard-win and fairly negotiated benefits as contagion that must be quarantined and eradicated. Workers and their benefits, that is, are again represented as a social ill–this time a “virus”–plaguing society. This operates on multiple levels, to dehumanize workers and unions, to elicit fear in a public weathering a prolonged economic malaise, and to steer people away from a serious analysis of the economic, social, and political conditions causing problems in Wisconsin but also the nation as a whole and instead use what health insurance industry whistle-blower Wendell Potter termed in a December 7, 2010 speech “anger-mongering.”

Don’t be at all surprised to see others on the right pick up on and advance this affiliation of workers, unions, and their benefits-as-contagion trope. It has enjoyed a long shelf life in the pantry of right-wing rhetoric.

–Jason Kozlowski


EPI: Wisconsin Public-Sector Workers Undercompensated Vis-A-Vis Private Sector

After extensively analyzing wage and benefit date, the progressive think tank Economic Policy Institute finds that Wisconsin public-sector workers are under-compensated in wages and benefits when compared to their private-sector counterparts. Categorizing the wage and benefit packages of workers by educational levels–attaining high school, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees–Jeffrey H. Keefe contends that across the board, workers in the private sector make more than those in the public sector. As the level of education increases, so does the disparity between private-sector and public-sector compensation.

Keefe says, “On an annual basis, full-time state and local government employees in Wisconsin are undercompensated by 8.2% compared with otherwise similar private sector workers. This compensation disadvantage is smaller but still  significant when hours worked are factored in. Full-time public employees work fewer annual hours, particularlyemployees with bachelor’s, master’s, and professional degrees (because many are teachers or university professors). When comparisons are made controlling for the difference in annual hours worked, full-time state and local government employees are undercompensated by 4.8%, compared with otherwise similar private sector workers.” (Are Wisconsin’s Public Employees Over-Compensated? Briefing Paper #290, Economic Policy Institute, February 10, 2011, 1)

These findings come as Wisconsin Governor Walker and state Republican legislators claim that the state needs to get public-sector wages and benefits “in line” with those in the private sector. If that were the case, according to this EPI report, Wisconsin’s public employees would appear entitled to pay and benefit increases. See the chart below from the report:

These statistics are important to keep in mind for additional reasons. For all the gains that public-sector unions have made, and Wisconsin is the birthplace of AFSCME, they still trail the private sector in key indicators such as compensation vis-a-vis education. Also, legislators and counter-protesters primarily consisting of right-wing Tea Party groups have increasingly employed rhetoric characterizing Wisconsin public-sector workers and the anti-proposals protesters as soft, pampered, over-paid, greedy, and destroying the economy. While myriad examples of this rhetoric abound, see the comment board for this story at the Minneapolis Star Tribune web site for such anti-union animus. This plays upon long-standing stereotypes of unionized workers, especially prevalent among the political right, as lazy and unproductive.

EPI has done more of this extensive research on public-sector workers especially in states facing rollback of workers’ bargaining rights, such as Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee.  We at the Illinois World Labor Hour plan to bring you more, both on air and here at the blog, in the days and weeks ahead.

–Jason Kozlowski