From Journal Sentinel: Membership in Public Worker Unions Takes a Hit Under Act 10

MacIver News Service | July 22, 2013

[Milwaukee, Wisc…] Public union membership is down by as much as 60% according to Dan Bice at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Multiple local chapters of AFSCME have reported thousands of lost members since Governor Scott Walker signed Act 10. WEAC, the primary teachers union in the state, has lost more than half of its members. This provides an update to what the MacIver News Service reported back in April.

Some unions’ finances also suffer after Scott Walker curtails powers

by Daniel Bice

Gov. Scott Walker’s signature plan to slash collective bargaining has set off a Darwinian struggle for survival among Wisconsin’s public employee unions.

In the two years since Walker’s plan became law, tens of thousands of teachers and state and local workers have dropped out of their unions, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis of little-used federal financial records.

No labor group has been hit harder than the one representing Milwaukee city and county workers.

In 2010 — the year that Walker was elected governor — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 48 was thriving, having enrolled more than 9,000 workers and reporting income exceeding $7 million.

By the end of 2012, District Council 48 was down to just under 3,500 dues-paying members — a loss of nearly two-thirds of its represented workers.

The local also reported its net worth had plummeted, so it is now more than $650,000 in the red. This was the case even after AFSCME’s international headquarters pumped $250,000 into the Milwaukee’s union’s coffers last year.

Rich Abelson, the longtime head of District 48 who recently left for an AFSCME job in Washington, D.C., did not return calls.

Other public employee unions are faring only marginally better. Most have lost between 30% and 60% of their members in the past two years.

Reached earlier this month, Walker said he was not surprised by the numbers.

“We were trying to empower workers and give them a choice,” the first-term Republican governor said. “If workers saw value out of their union, then they have every right to stay put. But if they didn’t, they could make that choice.”

Walker rejected any suggestion that he had effectively handicapped the once-powerful labor groups with his legislation.

“People said at the time, ‘Oh, you’re trying to get rid of the unions,'” Walker recalled. “I said, ‘No, I’m trying to have them show value.’ Workers are making their value assumptions.”

One labor law expert challenged Walker’s statement on his motives.

“Absolutely disingenuous,” said Paul Secunda, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School.

Secunda, who hasn’t given to Democratic or Republican candidates in recent years, said it’s clear that Act 10 was part of an orchestrated effort to undermine public employee unions, noting that GOP governors in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan had made similar proposals.

Walker’s plan, the professor said, contains such punitive measures as requiring unions to recertify annually and barring employees from paying their union dues through payroll deductions.

Beyond that, the governor reduced the importance of these unions by prohibiting collective bargaining on anything but wage increases — and then only up to the rate of inflation. Secunda said even those public employees who agree with the idea of unions must be asking why they should pay dues to get the same pay raise as everybody else in government.

“It’s not about liking or disliking unions,” Secunda said.

Another union hit hard by the new collective bargaining rules was AFSCME District Council 40, which represents public employees from Kenosha to Superior. The union now has slightly more than 20,000 members, down 36% from three years ago.

Rick Badger, executive director of District Council 40, said the number didn’t decline more dramatically because his local was able to negotiate contract extensions with government agencies not just in Madison and Dane County but also in places like La Crosse and Door counties.

In addition, Badger said his union represents private-sector workers who hold jobs that parallel services provided by the government. For instance, his union recently organized employees at a mental health services provider and a drug rehabilitation center.

To deal with the drop in members, Badger’s union cut salaries and benefits for its own staff.

“We have so far been fortunate to not have to resort to a single layoff since Act 10 was implemented,” Badger said of his union.

Others haven’t been so lucky.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council — the state’s primary teachers union — doesn’t have to file annual financial reports with the U.S. Department of Labor.

But according to a person who has reviewed the group’s internal numbers, WEAC has lost roughly 50% of its 98,000 dues-paying members since Walker signed Act 10.

The financial pressure has caused the union to cut a large share of its staff. For a time last year, union executives considered selling WEAC’s prominent hilltop headquarters on the south side of Madison. The union’s board stepped in and put a halt to the idea, according to sources familiar with the matter.

A spokeswoman for WEAC could not be reached for comment.

The Wisconsin State Employees Union also doesn’t file annual reports with the feds. But Marty Beil, executive director of the union, said his organization has lost more than half of its members. It once represented 22,000 state workers, but is now down to between 9,000 and 10,000 members.

Just last week, more than 1,500 state correctional officersvoted to break away from Beil’s union, becoming the first group to vote to form a new state union since the changes in 2011. The state has yet to certify the corrections union.

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