|Scott Walker's Cynical "Right-to-Work" Scheme|
By Mike Konopacki
Governor Walker has repeatedly denied any interest in making Wisconsin a so-called “right to work” (RTW) state, i.e. requiring that all union dues be voluntary in the private sector. Given his abysmal record on truth telling, no one should take him at his word.
Take a look at Act 10, the controversial legislation he pushed last year to strip collective bargaining rights from most public sector workers, along with pay and other sacrifices. Then and now, he has insisted it’s pure economics. “This was never about unions,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel early this month. “This is about balancing budgets.”
Days later, however, a January 18, 201 video surfaced of Walker assuring Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks of his intentions to bring RTW to Wisconsin: "Well, we're going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is we're going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer."
Part of that strategy included exempting from Act 10 Milwaukee police and fire unions that endorsed him for governor. He also got an endorsement from Operating Engineers Local 139, based on his promise not to support RTW. Later, the Building Trades, representing various unions in construction, got a guarantee of union jobs for joining Walker’s push for the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine, a project of the notoriously antiunion parent company, the Cline Group.
“Private sector unions are overwhelmingly my partner in economic development,” he told the Journal. Just not all of them.
Labor journalists Kathy Wilkes and Roger Bybee have exposed the sinister underbelly of Walker’s agenda. Wilkes describes the circumstances and aftermath of a ten-week strike by 200 Machinists at Manitowoc Crane solely over the employer’s demand for voluntary union dues—a requirement for public unions under Walker’s Act 10. Bybee reports on a similar strike at Ashland Industries where the employer, according to Machinists rep Marty St. Peters, “basically said, ‘Manitowoc Crane got rid of the union security clause. We want that too’.”
The result is what Wilkes calls “right-to-work by other means,” and, as documented by Bybee, it’s an expansion of “Walker’s war against workers” into the private sector.
Like the strike settlements at Manitowoc and Ashland, RTW laws give represented workers the benefits of union contracts (better pay, work rules, and job protections) without paying dues; meanwhile unions remain legally obligated to represent them. The intent is to eliminate unions altogether by gutting their treasuries. Act 10 obviously has sent a powerful message to private employers: It’s open season on unions. No special bill needed. Force RTW piecemeal—one contract, one union at a time.
In another “divide and conquer” maneuver, Walker inserted himself into the Manitowoc dispute by urging the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council to back a Democrat-sponsored bill that “would allow non-striking employees like the 150 Boilermakers at Manitowoc Cranes the ability to qualify for UI benefits.” Manitowoc CEO Glen Tellock echoed support, even though he’s on the board of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which opposes the measure. With the strike ended, the bill has gone nowhere, a now dead vehicle to pit Boilermakers against striking Machinists.
Unions that fall for Walker’s lies will have only themselves to blame when “right-to-work by other means” is forced on them too. The second step of Walker’s “divide and conquer” strategy has already hit two unions. Who’s next?
Mike Konopacki is a labor and political cartoonist, a labor educator, and a graduate of UW-Madison and Lincoln High in Manitowoc, WI.