Labor expert: Prison guard split is ‘warning shot’ to unionsLabor expert Gary Chaison says the split of prison guards from the Wisconsin State Employees Union (WSEU) is a “warning shot” to unions nationwide.
By: By Shawn Johnson, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
Labor expert Gary Chaison says the split of prison guards from the Wisconsin State Employees Union (WSEU) is a “warning shot” to unions nationwide.
Chaison is a professor of labor relations at the Massachusetts-based Clark University where he teaches courses on collective bargaining and the history of strikes in America. He says the decision by prison workers to split off from the once-powerful Wisconsin State Employee Union and form the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement was “gutsy,” but that only time will tell if it was a smart one.
“In times of uncertainty, you can't necessarily say that smaller is better in the world of unions,” says Chaison.
Chaison says with a shift toward more austerity in government, unions nationally are in more of a defensive mode. Big public employee unions that don't have the negotiating power they once did are constantly looking for ways to keep their smaller bargaining units happy.
“Every public employee union in the United States right now is essentially asking itself 'What can we do to keep the folks happy on the local level whether they're teachers or firefighters or police?’” says Chaison. “And if you don't do a good job, then what's happened in Wisconsin serves as a warning to them, you can lose them.”
Chaison says public employee unions in other states have generally succeeded at sticking together. He expects Wisconsin's unions did not because they lost so much bargaining power here. Chaison says that in the two years since the passage of Wisconsin's Act 10, no state has successfully enacted a similar law for public unions. He thinks the next challenge for unions will be battling large cities like Detroit who want to balance their budgets by cutting benefits for workers.