Report: Wis. assault on public unions has mostly worked

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.”

  • Gary F
    • Veronica

      Define “many”. That’s a very strong statement to throw out.

      • Gary F

        Detroit MI, Compton CA, Harrisburg PA, Providence RI, Oakland CA, That’s a start. All run by Dems.

        • X.A. Smith

          Then the Republicans take over, and poison entire cities and try to cover it up.

          • Gary F


          • crystals


          • Gary F

            Caused by Democrats at every level and now a Republican has to clean it up.

          • Anna

            Hate to tell you this, Gary but an emergency manager appointed by Rick Snyder, a Republican made the decision to switch Flint from Detroit Water and Sewer Department to the Karegnondi Water Authority.

          • Gary F


            this walks through the whole Flint situation

          • Jay T. Berken

            You win…now tell us how to take care of Flint’s mess? Will it happen in any other city?

          • tboom

            Anna. You scored a point in your debate with Gary, now you must read a convoluted National Review article. (National Review … now there’s a surprise)

          • Fred, Just Fred

            The City Council and Mayor made the decision, the emergency manager signed off on it. Please find the Republican in this picture of joyous Flint leaders celebrating the decision.

          • davidG

            Under the emergency manager law, the council and mayor no longer have that authority. Theirvotes (whic never actually addressed the use of Flnt River water) were rubber stamp votes of the EM. If the had voted the switch down, the EM could over ride tha vote if he wanted.

          • crystals

            Isn’t this situation horrific enough that we can all agree EVERYONE involved has done the people of Flint a massive injustice? No party, no person, should be seen as a winner (or savior) here.

          • Anna

            Agreed. This reminds me of the Mikey commercial from the 70’s.

            It’s an election year. What else do you expect career politicians to do? It’s always someone else who caused the problem.

            Hindsight is always 100% correct.

            Shoulda, woulda, coulda is not going to help the people of Flint.

          • Fred, Just Fred

            I think the fault line is very well laid out for the Flint debacle. So far, only the governor (who has a very limited culpability) and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant have taken any responsibility at all.

            Wyant resigned; he should be followed by the regional EPA Director, Flint’s Mayor, city council and water treatment plant manager, for a start.

          • Anna

            Dayne Walling, the former mayor of Flint has admitted his culpability in not taking the consultant’s concerns seriously regarding the water quality.

            KWA had plans for a pipeline to bring water from Lake Huron but that was not going to be completed for three years (2017).

            The installation of carbon filters would have prevented the problem but they were considered too costly.

            Once again, the desire to save money overruled people’s common sense, both Democrats and Republicans.

          • Fred, Just Fred

            Please identify the Republicans responsible for the lack of carbon filters.

  • MrE85

    Walker may not be much of a success as a presidential candidate, but as a union buster, he’s a national leader.

    • Fred, Just Fred

      as a public union buster, he’s a national leader.

  • tboom

    >>When calculating raises, districts are evaluating teachers based on “leadership qualities.” <<

    Sounds arbitrary.

    • Gary F

      sounds like the real world.

      • …which is arbitrary.

      • tboom

        Don’t get me started Gary, I don’t have the time and your opinion will never change. You clearly believe all unions are always bad in every way. Although I’m not enamored with how unions have traditionally been run, I tend to have a little more wiggle-room in my judgment.

        Just let me ask you one sort-of generic question, try to think philosophically: Are the way things are, the way they ought to be?

        • Gary F

          No, don’t think for me, please. I’m against public sector unions. Trade unions have to compete with non-union companies, so there are market forces that keep them competitive. I can’t get a building permit or driver’s license from anyone else.

          Trade unions make perfect sense, they allow workers to carry their benefits with them as the contractors and jobs change in the industry. They also have training programs and guarantee a certain level of output, safety, and quality. Something that the teachers unions should look at. Instead of being tenured and making sure the bad teachers get promoted the same a good teachers, why not have them go the union hall and sit on the bench. The more productive teachers keep their jobs and get promoted, and the lesser ones get work as its needed.

          • tboom

            Sorry to attempt to read your mind Gary, after reading so many posts I thought I had a better handle on your belief system.

            Though I did write “all unions”, of course the title of the blog post specifies “public unions” which was where I was trying to make my point.

            So, I take it you work in the trades (love trade unions) and dislike paying others for the work they do (hate public sector unions).

          • Gary F
  • Kassie

    Ultimately, it won’t matter. Friederichs vs. The California Teachers Association will probably kill public unions in the rest of the country later this year. It may be a slow death though, I know my union is coming up with a lot of different strategies to fight it.

  • Rob

    We all do better when we all do better. When politicians and courts act in opposition to this principle, the end result is Wisconsin.

  • Jay Sieling

    The next five years may be even more telling. Wisconsin is already facing labor shortages:
    Now they are crafting legislation to bolster the workforce in rural areas, offering 20% loan paybacks to attract workers to the wilderness.
    Net migration for MN is +7300 for WI it is -3400 according to Forbes. Perhaps the policies have created a brain drain. To address the teaching shortage, they passed legislation to hire less qualified personnel.

  • Jay T. Berken

    My question is, are they getting better services? Are the kids getting better education? Are the cities/counties keeping up on their road maintenance? Are public services being expedited more efficiently? It is all nice to spend less, but will it cost more to the society years down the line due to neglect. It is nice to say that public services are should be run like a business, but our children are children, not watches.

    • John

      That is the open question – the state is apparently spending less, but are they saving money, or just kicking the maintenance can down the road?

    • Fred, Just Fred

      As I understand it, the public school system is saving millions, and the teachers are saving money on better health care. Evidently WEAC had a cozy relationship with a health care provider that benefited the union, but not the members or the taxpayers. Now teachers have several options to choose from.

      I don’t know if the kids are getting a better education, but they are not getting any worse an education. Despite what the NEA will tell you, more money is not the answer.

      • Jay T. Berken

        “more money is not the answer.”

        The problem with this throwaway phase is that the person saying it never takes into account that teachers in general never really say, “I’m going into teaching for the money.” These unions are for the teachers, not the school administrations.

        I have a daughter in daycare currently. We could have went with a home daycare that was $50 a week less, but she didn’t have any curriculum (besides baking cookies) and had “whatever was in the frig” for food. We decided to go with a home daycare with Spanish emersion, is working her curriculum with St. Paul schools and has fresh food. It is well worth the money, and we feel we are doing the best for our child as possible. When it comes to anybody’s child’s learning, I error on the side to pay the teachers better to get higher quality, so money can be the answer.

        • Fred, Just Fred

          That’s all well and good. Problem is, we’ve been paying for the immersion and fresh food, but getting cookie baking and whatever is in the frig.

          The difference is, you had the choice in deciding where to put your kids; public school families are stuck.

          • Jay T. Berken

            On your first point, I really do not know what is true. I can look at the amount of money is in the budget for education (including referendums), and I can look at the scoring numbers. What it means, I do not really know if it sets our children up for a fulfilling and successful life. I do know this; we have a lot more needs (i.e. ELL, special ed., etc.) that are here to stay. One goes into a Minneapolis school and sees child of different cultures and languages and that school is expected to be run like a business and be efficient. They are not watches; they are children. A lot of pressures are put onto the teachers (yes, they did sign up for the task) to gather all these moving parts and put it into a nice little box. Have you (as an adult) ever been in one of those classes?

            Yes I picked the care that I give my child. (btw, Minnesota has school choice) Yes, not everyone can live in Edina with better schools, but we can try to steer the money into our teachers to recruit more effective ones.

          • Fred, Just Fred

            We’ve been steering more money to teachers for years, and the academic results in America’s biggest cities (as measured by college admissions, graduation rates, and test scores) tanked in the 80’s and have not budged in the past 30 years.

            Twin cities public schools receive an average of $20,000 per year, per student. That is more than many elite, private schools.

            As for needs that are here to stay; ELL a need that is entirely voluntary. If ELL has become a burden, maybe it’s a good idea to let the current wave of immigrants assimilate before taking on another wave. Title I (special ed) needs were actively pursued by public schools as a source of federal dollars. I often hear the complaint that schools have become a one stop shop for social programming, which may be true, but the fact is they asked for it.

            Finally, I’ll ask you the same question I’ve asked dozens of leftist politicians and teachers union supporters & officers; How much is enough? If money is the problem, how much will it take to get 90% of students graduating with high academic achievement, and how long will that take?

          • Jay T. Berken

            “ELL a need that is entirely voluntary.”

            What are you saying Fred? Please prove my assumptions wrong.

            “Title I (special ed) needs were actively pursued by public schools as a source of federal dollars. I often hear the complaint that schools have become a one stop shop for social programming, which may be true, but the fact is they asked for it.”

            I heard special ed. paper work is a nightmare. That can be trimmed back, but then it can open schools up for lawsuit. But I don’t think schools “ask” for being a one shop stop. They do not ask for there students unless they are private or even charter schools, so what are you talking about. Again, public schools are not a factories; they are for students!

            “How much is enough? If money is the problem, how much will it take to get 90% of students graduating with high academic achievement, and how long will that take?”

            I really don’t know, but I did put some suggestions out and you shot them down. Let’s have a conversation. What are your thoughts to increase student graduation to 90% Fred.

  • Jay Sieling
  • John

    I’m trying to sort out my feelings on this overall. Unions have traditionally served a valuable role in this country, at one time, I believe, helping create and keep the middle class – which was good for us all.

    Then, I think the pendulum may have swung too far (at least in the private sector). The best example I can think of is the auto workers union in Detroit. They went from being able to negotiate a living wage for the people building cars, to having such a strangle hold on the industry that it became nearly impossible to fire a bad employee. And to create artificially high salaries for what are essentially entry level, low skill, positions (there were at one time news stories about people whose job was to sweep the floor making 100K/year – you can debate the accuracy of that all you want, I’m not going to get into it).

    Now, I think the pendulum is swinging back the other way. Unions appear to have largely fallen out of favor, and some of the wins they’ve gotten over the years are being rolled back (in some cases, the union itself being broken). Northwest managed it with the mechanics a decade or so ago, and now Walker has done it with public sector in WI.

    Too bad for WI though. With their economy not doing as well as MN’s, and an apparent push to lower wages for useful members of society (i.e. teachers and cops), I think the long term effect of this union bust is going to be a problem, as the best at those jobs will move away to places that value those skills, leaving WI in a difficult place for the future. I think it will take 10-15 years to really realize the damage that is being done right now.

    • ChrisF

      Agreed. I have the same mixed feelings. I’m all for unions being there to provide good wage and, more importantly, stability and peace of mind for employees. But in doing a lot of HR/Employment Law work the past few years I’ve read case laws in various states and find example after example of union protection for members who really don’t deserve protection, especially in cases of public workers involved in extreme misconduct.

      It’s pretty easy to roll your eyes at a floor sweeper making $100kish. But I wonder if that floor sweeper working at a company who’s CEO is pulling down 6 million?

      • Rob

        Yes, it’s interesting to see how much wrath was directed at the owner of the credit card service provider who started paying all of his emploees a $70,000 starting salary. If more companies run by folks making 7, 8 or 9- figure salaries made similar moves and showed themselves to be more on their workers’ side, there’d be less of a role for unions to play.

      • Kassie

        I am a union steward. I do not protect my members, I protect my contract and the process. The employer can fire anyone who is deserving, but they need to follow the process. That means the employer needs to actually tell an employee what their start time is before disciplining them for being late. I have a situation right now where the member has in writing how they are never do something and they are trying to discipline her because she didn’t do that thing. Sure, she probably should have done that thing, but she was following their stupid rule. Any bad employee can be fired, management just needs to put the time in, most often, management is just too lazy.

        • From a private sector union perspective (MPR doesn’t have one but a radio network I was at did): This rings very much true. I’ve been covered by union contracts in which layoffs occurred and it was never a problem to layoff more senior people under the contract even though seniority was in it. The company was always able to get rid of the people it wanted to get rid of for whatever reason but they had to follow a process to do it.

          There are simple courtesies that employees extend to employers. We give two weeks notice when we’re leaving, for example. Those courtesies often aren’t returned. You get a call into the HR office and that’s it, you’re fired. Or you get a severance package but it comes with strings attached like, “you can’t speak ill of the company” without a definition of what constitutes speaking “ill”.

          The union eliminates the unequal treatment of employees from employee to employee, or at least makes it more easily to track and encourages employers to work with the unions to wind down operations when that’s required.

          When an employer loses his mind over the prospect of a union, I always ask “what is it you’re afraid of?” What they indicate they’re afraid is rarely a possibility. But they know someone who knows someone who heard something about what happened somewhere.

          • Anna

            It’s been said that companies and corporations who get unions usually deserve them for the very reasons you so aptly stated in your post.

            Employees leave managers they don’t leave companies. Treat your employees fairly and honestly and you need not fear a union vote.

          • ChrisF

            Exactly. And if you’re the type that doesn’t like the government stepping in as the unions have declined, like the NLRB or Dept of Labor as been doing the last several years, the same rule applies.

    • lindblomeagles

      I too agree. But what really concerns me that while we mere mortals are helping folks bust unions, the affluent sports athletes embrace unions, and their earnings continue to skyrocket. At the moment, the so-called dumb jocks seem more intelligent than the rest of the country.

      • John

        Seems like the players union is doing its job exactly as it should – helping make sure the folks doing the work get a reasonable cut of the profits.

        The owners will tolerate unions and fat contracts when times are good (and they are in sports). If profits drop, the owners will try to break those unions too.

        Didn’t the nhl strike a few years back?

  • Al

    I’d argue that saving money isn’t worth the loss of human capital, as workers leave jobs affected by Act 10 for other jobs, the private sector, and (gasp) Minnesota.

  • Al

    In defense of public unions in Minnesota: When I first started as a state employee, I remember not quite understanding why I needed union protection.

    Now? Working for a department that dabbles in “controversial” issues like vaccination, systemic racism and its impact on health, and newborn screening (although the evidence around each of those is overwhelmingly conclusive), I’m thankful that my union can help protect the people that fill those jobs.

  • Fred, Just Fred

    I really don’t have a problem with private sector unions that play by the rules of competition, but public sector unions (including cops and firemen), need to be banned outright.

    Public employees work for the public they are a part of. If they feel they have a grievance, they should take it up directly with their employers; us.

    You don’t have to look far to see the tremendous damage public sector unions have done to the commons. Most of Michigan’s largest cities are bankrupt due to insane union pensions; many California cities have gone bankrupt or the same reason and Chicago is at the edge.

    I give Walker huge respect for getting the ball rolling, but he needs to deal with the cops, firemen and public university staff now.

    • Kassie

      “Public employees work for the public they are a part of. If they feel they have a grievance, they should take it up directly with their employers; us.”

      Really? Come on. Do you have any idea how many public employees there are? How exactly do you think I should bring you my grievances? Are you personally going to deal with the thousands of people hired and fired each year, all the leave requests, the FMLA paperwork and disability accommodations? And when your party is in power, do you really want me to air their administration’s dirty laundry every time they do something I don’t like, which I promise you is all the time? Or maybe it is better that there is a process, a group of professionals taking care of those things, and a contract that outlines all the rules so most of the answers can be found quickly and applied equally?

      • Al

        Nailed it.

      • Fred, Just Fred

        “leave requests” (whatever that is), FMLA paperwork and disability accommodations sound like HR issues. There is absolutely no reason public sector jobs cannot be handled like private sector, ie; IT professional wanted, $72k per year, 2 weeks vacation, benefit package ABC. Wage increases commensurate with existing budget. Take it or don’t.

    • Rob

      Yes, let’s reduce the decent pay and benefits and the fair labor practices that unions have attained for public employees. God forbid that the people who help keep us safe and teach our kids should get a fair slice of the economic pie.

      • Fred, Just Fred

        You are welcome to voice your opinions, but don’t “put words in my mouth” to do it.

        I don’t expect anyone to do something I wouldn’t do myself, and that includes working for an unfair compensation package. However I expect my public employees to be willing to react to the market, like I do. That means if revenue is down, your wages are not going to go up, and you will have to accept the changes necessary to keep the ship afloat.

        In 2008, I , along with most professionals in my field took a 10% cut in pay (before getting laid off completely). Despite a slightly better business climate the past couple of years, the prevailing salary among myself and my peers continues to reflect those cuts, and I don’t see it coming back any time soon. I can learn to deal with that (and I have), or I can find another field of employment…it’s what adult, free people do.

        Reading reactions from public unions it’s pretty clear there is an “I got mine, FU” attitude among employees. That has got to change.

        • tboom

          >>That means if revenue is down, your wages are not going to go up, and you will have to accept the changes necessary to keep the ship afloat.<<

          And there’s the rub, if the world were run the way most conservatives advocate there would be lower taxes every year, thus less revenue annually, meaning public employees would be required to take pay cuts every year. Which leads back to my (slightly) over the top remark about public employees working for nothing other than civic pride.

          • Fred, Just Fred

            I don’t know a single conservative that is not willing to pay a fair price in return for high quality services. The rub is, we’re continually paying more and getting less, and we’re sick of it.

            The economy has been in the tank since 2008 and shows no sign of a rebound any time soon; in fact Yellen sounded a bit of an alarm on Monday. Public sector employees must share the reality of the people that pay their salaries.

            Maybe someone can help us here. When was the last time a public employee union agreed to a pay cut?

          • tboom

            >> …we’re continually paying more and getting less… <<

            We continually demand more while refusing to pay more. As static resources are spread over more service areas it only appears to be less/poorer service.

            When was the last time you agreed to a pay cut?

          • Fred, Just Fred

            No, leftists continually demand more and demand others pay for it. Example: Saint Paul has a triply redundant Human Rights department, with a budget of more than $5 million a year…Coleman’s old Chief of Staff is Director (naturally). When Coleman was proposing to raise taxes, I asked him to defend it, and he said “it reflected ‘our’ values”…by “our” he meant the DFL. I think the state and county HR bureaus located within 3 blocks of one another is more than enough.

            In 2008 I accepted a 10% cut in pay. Have not made it up yet, and am resigned to the possibility I may not make it up ever. No one ever promised me life was going to be fair.

            When was the last time Minnesota budget shrank in real dollars, not a reduction of increase? I don’t think that has happened in 100 years.

          • tboom

            >> In 2008 I accepted a 10% cut in pay. Have not made it up yet, and am resigned to the possibility I may not make it up ever. No one ever promised me life was going to be fair. <<

            I’m sorry to hear about your pay cut. You’re not alone, it’s painful, and for me and the financial pain has dragged on for several years (my salvation has been a career change which has brought some much needed non-financial meaning into my life).

            Concerning your “leftist spending” comment, I’d argue the right side of the aisle is pretty good as spending too (“tax and spend liberals, borrow and spend conservatives”).

          • Fred, Just Fred

            I won’t argue that point. TPaw’s failure to cut spending commensurate with taxes was a prime example.

          • Rob

            Harrisburg, PA teachers union, August 2013: 5% pay cut

            AFSCME #31, Illinois, March 2013: 1st yr. pay freeze, pay increases in yr 2 and three below the rate of inflation

            Phila. principals union, March 2014

            Service Employee Int’l Union, Calif., June 2012: 4.6 percent yearlong cut

            Hawaii Gov’t Employee Assoc, April 2011: 5% pay cut

          • Fred, Just Fred

            Harrisburg teachers and AFSCME took a cut in increases. Its an old ruse.
            SEIU is not a public union
            Found nothing about Phila principals.
            Hawaii employees did take a cut in 2009 in leiu of layoffs.

            1 for 5. But you did find 1

          • Rob

            SEIU is indeed a public union, as per the first line of the article: “California Gov. Jerry Brown added another notch on his budget-tightening belt after the state’s largest public employee union agreed to a 4.6 percent pay cut over the next year.”—14481

            Philly principals:

            More pay cuts: Saginaw, MI teacher’s union —

            Nazareth, PA custodians union:

            Salem, OR, Oregon Public Employees Union:,7127598&hl=en

          • Fred, Just Fred

            From your links:

            1. The SEIU agreed to the pay cut to avoid having it imposed by Brown – and got some concessions in return. Pension and health benefits will not be affected, and employees at the top “step” of their salary classifications will still get the 3 percent pay hike called for in their current contract in July 2013.

            (So the senior members get theirs, f the taxpayers AND new members…nice)

            2. The three-year contract, which the 500 members of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators ratified by 83 percent to 17 percent, will cut their pay considerably – by more than $20,000 annually. They will also work a shorter school year.

            3. Under an agreement the the state [Oregon], the OPEU members affected by the cut will receive an additional 6 days of vacation

            You see, with public employee unions, cuts never really are cuts.

        • Rob

          first, check your blood pressure, then show me just one instance in which a public union has said what you are asserting.

    • tboom

      Yes, those pubic employees should really just work for nothing … it’s a matter of civic duty.

      • Fred, Just Fred

        Here’s another one.

        Voice your opinion, but don’t put words in my mouth to do it.

  • kevins

    Institutions are institutions, whether public or private. They move by their own momentum, and defend themselves against forces that deviate from prescribed ideas or behaviors. In most cases, that works for those within the system, and makes the institution functional and even useful for those outside. There are exceptions however, and unions provide one safety net for individuals within the institution and a counterbalance to the force of the institution when it misuses power. Public or private makes no difference.

  • Khatti

    If there are any Millennials reading these posts my advice for you is to try and figure out some sort of institution that will replace the union. Be sneaky about it, the longer your employers don’t know what you’re doing the better off you will be.