Divided Wis. unions could spell win for Scott Walker

Labor fought hard to recall Gov. Scott Walker, but last-minute dissension could help keep him in office

Topics: Scott Walker, Wisconsin Recall, ,

Divided Wis. unions could spell win for Scott Walker Protesters at the Wisconsin state capitol building (Reuters/Darren Hauck)

Unions in Wisconsin made history by mobilizing the recall against Gov. Scott Walker, but it’s too soon to say whether the state will follow through and kick him to the curb. One thing that could work in his favor: The inability of some of the state’s powerful unions to consolidate behind a Democratic candidate to oppose him. Having come this far, some labor activists now question whether the best way to flex their muscle is to sit out the election altogether.

This is the drama unfolding at the Teaching Assistants Association, which represents graduate students and project assistants from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. No union is more identified with the anti-Walker mobilization. Days after he introduced his bill to gut collective bargaining, TAA members showed up at the state capitol, sleeping bags in hand, and kicked off what became a 16-day occupation. That emboldened Democratic senators to flee the state to deny Walker a quorum – bringing national media attention to the controversy.

Now a month before the May 8 primary, two Democrats, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, are neck-and-neck at the front of the pack. And TAA members are split on what to do about it.

At issue is whether the union should support a candidate who hasn’t pledged to restore cuts to public workers’ wages and benefits — one of the criteria the TAA originally listed as a a prerequisite for an endorsement. Falk, who entered the race in January, is the only candidate who has pledged to veto any budget that doesn’t restore collective bargaining rights. But she also frequently touts the $10 million in concessions that she secured in negotiations with local unions as county executive. Barrett, who entered the race Friday, is more problematic when it comes to cuts: Last year, as the debate over collective bargaining raged, he told a conservative radio host that he opposed Walker’s collective bargaining changes but supported his proposed cuts.



“While Barrett was positioning himself as Walker-lite to the right-wing radio audience, Kathleen Falk was in court suing the state Senate for violating the state’s open meetings law,” says Mike Amato, the chairman of TAA’s Political Education Committee. Amato’s committee voted unanimously to recommend that the membership get behind Falk in February, but the rest of the union hasn’t accepted the advice. It voted in March to remove the endorsement conditions, but still did not endorse Falk.

Some now argue that it is better for the union to endorse no one rather than compromise on its principles.  TAA’s co-president, Adrienne Pagac, says the union should have left the endorsement conditions in place. “Some people were frightened that it was asking too much … Are we asking too much when we say we just want back what we had when Governor Walker came into office?” Pagac says. Falk’s boasts about Dane County make her worry that, as governor, Falk would join Democrats like New York’s Andrew Cuomo in shortchanging workers rather than asking the wealthy to make sacrifices.

Amato says that, while he supported the “No cuts” call at the capitol last year, reversing year-old concessions is the wrong place to draw a line in the sand. “Were she to say that she would restore every cut to every union … that would doom her candidacy, and on June 6 we would have Walker in the governor’s office,” he says. “I think we absolutely have to make sure that we defeat Walker.”

Pagac counters that a Falk endorsement would preserve political incentives that push candidates to the middle of the road while leaving unions under the bus. “The labor movement has become a fine-tuned machine in terms of being able to turn out voters …” says Pagac. “Organizing workers takes a lot longer.” If unions are strong enough, she says, “it doesn’t matter what political party is in office, because you have the ability to use that power, the power that you have in the workplace, to extract wins from your employer and the state.”

Amato says “one of the false ideas” held by some TAA members is that there’s “a zero-sum relationship where we have to do workplace organizing or political organizing.” Rather, he says, political activism is an opportunity to engage more members in the union. He worries that sitting out the election will hurt the union’s relevance, and will send the wrong message to others who occupied the capitol: “As an organization that is looked to for leadership, we have a responsibility to lead.” He also worries that rejecting Falk for excessive moderation could hand the primary to Barrett. “The idea that we’ve come this far and then we’re going to sit out the election boggles my mind.”

The TAA membership will meet again next Thursday. Amato says he doesn’t know whether he’ll revive the motion to endorse Falk. “It’s become a really contentious issue,” says Amato, “and I think a lot of us are starting to question how hard we’re going to push on it.  I think it will absolutely be a big mistake if we don’t endorse Kathleen Falk.” But if both sides remain adamant, says Amato, “I also don’t think it’s worth tearing apart the union.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>