Report: Wis. assault on public unions has mostly worked

Protesters march outside the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., Saturday, March 12, 2011. AP Photo/Morry Gash.

It was five years ago today that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker “dropped the bomb,” in his words, introducing legislation to strip public employee unions of their right to collective bargaining. It was a move that split Wisconsin and led to weeks of protests. How has it worked out?

Today, Wisconsin State Journal in Madison unveiled a five-prong examination of Act 10.

Cities and towns have saved money, it concludes. The size of local government doesn’t seemed to have been cut, but the cost of it has been, mostly by forcing workers to pay for more of their benefits, and cutting the entry-level pay of workers.

A union official insisted, long-term, Act 10 will diminish city services, but Capitol Times presented no evidence that’s been the case so far.

Many of the changes are being absorbed by teachers, with school districts coming up with new ways to pay teachers, including retention bonuses.

When calculating raises, districts are evaluating teachers based on “leadership qualities.” In some cases, that has increased the budgets of school districts, the paper said.

But the clout of teachers has vaporized. The largest teachers union almost $5 million to lobby the two legislative sessions leading up to the passage of Act 10. But by 2013-14 the union spent just $175,540, and so far has spent $93,481 in 2015-16, the State Journal said.

In fact, union membership of all kinds has fallen below the national average for the first time. Two of every three public employee union members dropped out after Gov. Walker signed the legislation.

But Act 10 has pitted neighbor against neighbor, creating an even more polarized state than previously existed.

“Lines were drawn deeper in the sand,” former Senate president Mike Ellis said. “Instead of maybe a half an inch in the sand they went down 2 feet. As a result of that time frame, that’s going to be there for a generation.”