Q&A: How can the state nullify collective bargaining?We asked Dennis L. Dresang, professor emeritus of political science at the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to explain the significance of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan to strip most public workers in Wisconsin of their collective bargaining rights.
By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune
We asked Dennis L. Dresang, professor emeritus of political science at the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to explain the significance of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan to strip most public workers in Wisconsin of their collective bargaining rights. The proposal has led to protests across the state.
Q. How can the Wisconsin Legislature take away public employees’ right to collective bargaining? What about federal labor laws?
A. The National Labor Relations Act does not include public employees on the state and local level. That means it’s up to state legislatures and governors to determine what the collective bargaining rights are for public employees in their respective states.
Q. Which public employees would be affected by this? Does it include city, county and town employees?
A. Gov. Walker’s proposal would affect all local and state employees — except for police and firefighters (who supported Walker’s campaign). We’re talking teachers, prison guards, the people who plow roads, etc.
Q. How many people is that?
A. About 55,000 state employees and around 170,000 county and local employees.
Q. When would it take effect?
A. Immediately after it was passed and signed into law.
Q. Does it mean public employees would not have the right to strike?
A. They don’t have the right to strike now. Currently if contract talks reach impasse, the issue goes to binding arbitration.
Q. Would public employees have any recourse if this passes?
A. Not much. They could stage illegal sickouts, work stoppages or even strikes. But their jobs wouldn’t be protected.
Q. If this is passed, would Wisconsin be the first state to take this action?
A. Yes. Other states are thinking of curtailing some bargaining rights, but this would be the most wide, broad (and) sweeping, in part because of two provisions: The first to allow bargaining only on wages, the second that would allow the state to fire employees for organizing employee actions or collective bargaining.
Q. Why can’t the Senate Republicans just pass this bill?
A. Because the vote requires a quorum of 20 members; the Republicans only have 19 members.
Q. Does the Assembly require a quorum to pass it?
A. The Assembly does need a quorum, and it has enough Republican members so that Democrats couldn’t hold up the vote with a walkout.
Q. When did Wisconsin public employees gain the right to collective bargaining? How does that compare to other states?
A. Local employees received the right to collective bargaining in 1959; the right was extended to state employees in 1967. Both of those laws were the first in the nation.
Q. If successful, what will Walker’s and the Legislature’s action mean, in both practical and symbolic terms?
A. It’s fair to say that there is a high probability of labor unrest. Walker is also about extending this from the public to the private sector, so that Wisconsin workers generally would not have the right to bargain collectively. That plan would run afoul of federal legislation.