The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

Volume 111, No. 4April, 2011

Walter Usiatynski

Walter Usiatynski, chair of the Broadway Theare Committee, with Marek (on shoulders) and Nikolai, at a recent rally. Photo: Macisaac/Epoch Times

There is a battle raging in Wisconsin. It is between a newly-elected administration and the working class citizens of that state. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has taken away collective bargaining rights for his state’s public-sector unions. Why this concerns other unions, such as Local 802, is a question we need to be asking right now.

Walker has signed into law a bill that takes away public-sector unions’ rights to negotiate for health and pension benefits, requires that contributions for those benefits be deducted from wages instead of contributed on top of wages, and requires a public referendum in order to negotiate for a wage increase higher than changes in the Consumer Price Index. The bill has ended the unions’ right to collect dues through checkoff and allows members to opt out of paying union dues altogether. And it requires the unions to negotiate contracts every year and hold annual secret-ballot votes to retain union recognition.

This is not just an attack on Wisconsin’s public-sector unions, but on all unions. By losing these rights in Wisconsin, we can be sure that the same tactics will be attempted everywhere. The result would be devastating. It would mean an immediate pay cut by the amount of the benefit contributions, very little negotiation for wage increases, and reduced revenue for the union since it would be forced to collect dues from members individually, with the prospect that some members, already facing financial hardship because of the economy and reduced wages, would put off paying them. And it will do nothing to help local and state budgets, as both the administration and the union will be expending much time and money into a logjam of constant negotiations.

Walker claims that he needed to do this to help the state budget. However, even after the unions came up with a financial package that met his concerns, he still persisted in destroying decades of labor law as well as much of the union’s negotiated gains. His reasons are political. Walker is trying to eliminate unions and thereby eliminate the power that they possess in supporting candidates that best address concerns for the working class: namely fair wages, job protection, job safety and worker well-being.

Yet this battle transcends the political. The tens of thousands who have assembled at the Wisconsin State House, as well as the hundreds of thousands who have demonstrated across the country, have shown that this is about a human element. There is no political rhetoric that can justify the damage that is done to Wisconsin’s labor law. Unions are the one thing that stand between workers and a greedy employer. They negotiate on behalf of all of its members, regardless of the economics of the time or the difficulty of the situation. It may be the only protection some workers have.

This action has become the straw that has broken the camel’s back. Wisconsin’s working class is not standing for it and neither can we. We need to support our union brothers and sisters everywhere, so that we may all prosper.