Act 10 at Five

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published a special report on Sunday about the state of labor unions in Wisconsin since the passage of Act 10 in 2011, the law that severely limited public-sector collective bargaining and ended agency fees. Here are a few choice quotes from the story:

+ “Dave Weiland, an Oconomowoc school district teacher and local union leader, thinks the state union was stuck in a 1920s mentality. ‘The gravy train was running, and they didn’t see the curve,’ he said.”

+ “The seeds of a public backlash were planted by the arbitration law. ‘Some would probably argue that was the death knell of real collective bargaining in Wisconsin,’ said Rick Badger, now statewide head of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which since Act 10 has lost 70% of its members at two of its councils.”

+ “After all, the arbitrators — not elected school boards — now usually decided their contracts. ‘Members disengaged,’ said John Matthews, who ran the Madison teachers union for 50 years. ‘We’d lost our pressure tactics.’”

+ “’I think we became, as a union, a paper tiger of sorts, focusing too much on collective bargaining at the expense of everything else,’ said Kim Schroeder, a teacher who is president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. ‘We set ourselves up as a target.’”

+ “When administrators told the union at the negotiating table that budgets were tight, teachers didn’t believe them. And unions that caved at the bargaining table were ostracized. ‘That just kind of fell on deaf ears,’ [former local union president Gary Stresman] says.”

This kind of critical introspection is rare at the higher levels of unions and it’s refreshing to see it published in a public forum. Still, it always seems to involve past actions and not current practices. How might things have turned out differently if all of the above concerns had been raised and publicized at the time they were occurring?