Wis. Gov. Scott Walker Takes Aim at Private-Sector Unions

Call it Union Busting 2.0. First Walker went after the unions representing public employees; now he's targeting the private-sector unions he said were his friends.

Photo Credit: ThinkProgress


When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, R, initiated a high-profile effort to bust his state’s public sector unions in 2011, he said that he had no interest in pursuing similar efforts against private sector unions. “Private sector unions are my partner in economic development,” Walker has said. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted that he “has consistently downplayed seeking any restrictions on private unions in public statements.”

Walker also said in December that “he wouldn’t pursue any new bills on public or private unions in the coming legislative session.” However, word evidently did not get down to his Republican colleagues, who introduced and are fast-tracking a bill to allow employers to cut hours of union workers without the unions’ consent:

Republicans are hurrying bills through the Wisconsin Legislature that they say could prevent layoffs by allowing companies to cut back workers’ hours, but Democrats on Tuesday called them a renewed GOP attack on unions.

The bills wouldn’t require companies to negotiate with unions about cutting back hours, in contrast to almost all similar laws in other states. But a spokeswoman for the author of the Assembly version of the Wisconsin proposal said there was no intent to harm organized labor.

The Wisconsin GOP is moving this bill under the guise of creating a “work-sharing” program, which is an idea aimed at using government support to allow businesses to cut back worker hours while not laying off employees (with the government picking up the tab for the hours workers miss). However, “in all but one of the 24 states with work-sharing laws, union representatives must agree to the reduction in hours for their members.” Wisconsin’s bill does not include a similar requirement.

“Republicans began their war on bargaining rights with Act 10, and with this bill they have now turned their attention to private sector unions,” said state senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D). “This bill is a clear opening shot at undermining private sector unions.” “The Farrow-Brooks bill says that private sector unions shouldn’t be able to negotiate for their members. It’s one more step toward their goal of ending the right of Wisconsin citizens to have their voice heard in the workplace,” added State Senator Julie Lassa (D).

Pat Garofalo is economic policy editor for His writing has also appeared in the Nation, the Atlantic, U.S. News & World Report, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Garofalo.

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