Despite all the rhetoric and millions of dollars spent by both sides in Wisconsin, the fundamental issue is very simple. Should workers have the right to voluntarily join a union and pay union dues?
The reason that unions were so incensed at Governor Walker’s reforms had nothing to do with their members having to pay a small percentage of the cost of their retirement and healthcare coverage when the state, i.e. taxpayers, had previously paid the entire cost. The days of unions primarily representing the interest of their members are long gone. The actions by the unions in Wisconsin clearly prove this.
The issue that compelled unions in Wisconsin to bus in thousands of members to protest at the Capitol last year, sign recall petitions using fraudulent names and to send busloads of union members from Michigan to attempt to vote illegally in the recall election is because their automatic dues collection system is at risk.
Public sector unions rely on state and local government employers to collect dues through payroll deductions. A portion of these dues are then used to fund political campaigns, however members have no say in which party or candidate receives the money that is collected. Governor Walker’s reforms ended state and government collection of member dues on behalf of the unions. Union members now pay their dues directly and voluntarily to their union.
As a result, the number of members of AFSME in Wisconsin has declined to 1/3 of its former membership in just one year. When union members are free to choose whether they want to continue to pay union dues and belong to the union, most do not think the benefits of union membership are worth the cost. Obviously, this does not fit the union model of using new member dues to help replenish depleted healthcare and retirement funds battered by chronic under funding, mismanagement and underperforming investments. It also severely hurts the Democrat party’s automatic funding stream.
Ironically, other aspects of Walker’s reforms helped to save the jobs of union workers. By no longer purchasing health insurance from a union run insurance program, school districts were able to get competitive bids on health care coverage, reduce their costs and preserve teaching jobs rather than layoff teachers to pay for more expensive health care costs.
While unions and their media sympathizers try to portray the recall loss in Wisconsin as devastating to workers, their recall loss actually restored basic worker rights. What unions and the Democratic Party really fear is that more states will follow the lead of Wisconsin and challenge the unholy alliance between public sector unions and the Democratic Party that deprives workers of their rights and forces taxpayers to pay increasing and unsustainable costs for government services.