When Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill restricting the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions in his state, he portrayed the move as a necessary step to rectify Wisconsin’s fiscal imbalance.
The unions, however, saw Walker’s move as an existential threat and reacted accordingly, initiating an effort to recall the governor.
As it turns out, they may have been right.
According to the Wall Street Journal
, since Walker signed the collective bargaining bill, many public employee unions in Wisconsin have experienced a precipitous drop in their membership rolls, with the second-largest such union losing more than half of its members.
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has lost more than 34,000 Wisconsin members, bringing their number in the state down to 28,745 from a height of 62,818 in March 2011.
National union leaders worry that a national extrapolation of Wisconsin’s trend would spell doom for organized labor.
Union leaders in Wisconsin blame several provisions of the law for the decline in membership, particularly the elimination of automatic union-dues collection. With public employees now able to opt out of paying union dues, many are electing to do just that, and the unions are cutting them loose as a result.
Because the law also compelled public employees to bear a greater portion of their benefit costs, many employees simply cannot afford the additional monthly deduction for union dues.
But even those who can afford to continue paying dues have questioned their efficacy, recognizing the diminished clout unions will be able to exercise in the absence of collective bargaining rights.
Tina Pocernich, a researcher at a Wisconsin technical college and mother of five, left her union in March after paying dues for 15 years, explaining, “It was a hard decision for me to make. But there’s nothing the union can do any more.”
Walker will face Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in next Tuesday’s recall election.
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