MacIver News Service | March 6, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers likes to call his $83.5 billion, two-year spending plan the “people’s budget.”
It looks more like the Big Labor budget, with lots of political payback for big-spending unions that helped get the Democrat elected.
Follow the money and you’ll see organized labor has long been one of candidate Evers’ biggest campaign donors, particularly in last year’s expensive gubernatorial contest that brought back Democratic Party control of Wisconsin’s executive branch.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) dumped north of $400,000 into the campaign to get Evers elected, and Service Employees International (SEIU) spent more than $718,000, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
SEIU dropped $25,000 alone on Nov. 1, just a few days before the election, according to state campaign finance figures. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 15 dumped in $50,000 on Nov. 2, and the Carpenters Legislative Improvement Committee United Brotherhood of Carpenters of Joiners cut the Evers campaign a check for $86,000 on Oct. 26, less than two weeks before the election.
What does Big Labor get in return? Perhaps the better question is, what doesn’t Big Labor get?
Evers’ first budget handsomely rewards his Big Labor allies with a full-on assault on worker freedom and taxpayer money.
“The budget reverses many changes made over the past eight years that have weakened the state’s tradition of championing workers, collective bargaining and local control,” the budget document states.
What Evers plans to do is bring back forced union dues, reinstate artificial wage floors that cost businesses and taxpayers big, and force the return of union exclusivity contracts.
The governor’s budget restores the prevailing wage law for state and local public works projects. Evers asserts bringing back the Great Depression-era relic “ensures that workers are not underpaid relative to other workers performing similar work in the area.”
Wisconsin’s previous prevailing wage statute, which tied wages on taxpayer-funded construction projects to inflated rates paid by unions, was repealed for local projects in the 2015-17 state budget. Former Gov. Scott Walker subsequently signed legislation that repealed the union-led, artificial wages for state projects. The changes allow markets to set wage rates for local construction projects, saving taxpayers from well-documented cost overruns.
Evers’ budget also would eliminate what the document describes as Wisconsin’s “so-called right-to-work law.” It’s called right-to-work precisely because it prohibits private-sector labor organizations from making compulsory union dues a condition of employment. In 2015, Wisconsin became the 25th right-to-work state in the nation when Walker signed the worker freedom legislation into law. Big Labor immediately challenged the law in court. They lost. With Evers, organized labor is found, and their vendetta against right-to-work is now being carried by the Democrat governor.
Stephanie Bloomingdale, president of Wisconsin AFL-CIO blasted the worker freedom law in Missouri last year when she rallied against a similar right-to-work bill there.
“I’m here to join Missouri workers to stand up for strong unions which we all know is the key to a healthy middle class,” Bloomingdale said in a union blog. “Politicians should be passing laws that strengthen our schools, protect our communities and help create good-paying jobs. Instead they chose to tip the scale against workers with these so-called Right to Work laws.”
Evers comforted Big Labor following his budget address last week.
“We’re going to begin to undo the harm that has been done to organized labor,” Evers told the Wisconsin AFL-CIO Building Trades Conference.
In more payback for unions, Evers is pouncing on another Walker-era victory. His budget plan permits the project labor agreements for public works projects that the former Republican governor signed out of existence in 2017.
PLAs stipulate that only union firms can bid on a project, and many units of government required them – shutting out non-union shops.
The Republican-led reform law prohibits a government from requiring a PLA as a condition to bid on a taxpayer funded project — a big win for the free market and the taxpayers who benefit by increased competition. Democrats have argued the law is yet another attack on unions and that it limits local control.
Evers’ budget plan also gets rid of a reform law that ends the patchwork of employment laws statewide. Evers’ provision would repeal preemption of costly local government ordinances on family and medical leave, wage claims, employee benefits, hours of work and overtime, and solicitation of prospective employees’ salary histories. The preemption reforms require such employment regulations to be governed by uniform statewide policy, not created through the whims of local governments, at business and taxpayer expense.
State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) said the governor is launching a direct attack on the last eight years of reforms.
“It’s bad enough that he wants to raise taxes at every turn, but his efforts to repeal commonsense reforms like right-to-work, prevailing wage and fed swap would cost taxpayers tens of millions each year and point our economy in the wrong direction,” Stroebel said.
Evers’ budget plan doesn’t appear to touch Walker’s landmark Act 10, loathsome to public-sector unions.
The 2011 law crimped labor’s power and its outsized position at the contract negotiating table. It requires public sector employees to contribute more to their taxpayer-funded health insurance plans and state pensions, while limiting pay raises to the rate of inflation.
Unions must also hold annual recertification votes, and give public employees the right to opt out of membership in their labor organizations. Under the old compulsory system, government employees never had a choice: they joined the public union and paid dues or they were fired. Act 10 has cost Big Labor a lot of members, a lot of money, and plenty of political clout. It has also freed tens of thousands of public employees from the grip of compulsory union dues.
Nearly 54 percent of active union members left the Wisconsin Education Association Council, for instance, between 2012 and 2017, according to data from the Education Intelligence Agency. That’s the largest drop-off in the country over the last five years.
The union stood at just 32,130 active members as of the last survey.
Big Labor has always been a big feeder of Evers’ political campaigns, from his successful races for Superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction to his narrow win against Walker in November
General trade unions have pumped more than $1 million into Evers’ campaigns over the years, according to Vote Smart. Labor in general has given more than $1.9 million to Evers’ campaigns over the years.
And they appear to be getting a pretty sizable return on investment.
During last year’s campaign, Walker made an issue of union spending on Evers’ campaign.
“Tony Evers wants to restore power to the unions that funded each of his winning campaigns,” the Republican tweeted.
Turns out Walker had it right.
But the prospects, again, don’t look good for Big Labor. The Republican-controlled Legislature is unlikely to undo the reforms they fought so hard to put in place.
“These items are non-starters in my mind,” Stroebel said.