News / USA

Union Power at Issue in Wisconsin Dispute

Opponents to the governor's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers sleep on the floor of the rotunda at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, at the start of the tenth day of protests, February 24, 2011
Opponents to the governor's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers sleep on the floor of the rotunda at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, at the start of the tenth day of protests, February 24, 2011

Multimedia

In U.S. politics, all eyes are on the Midwest state of Wisconsin where a budget battle rages that could have a profound impact on the power of labor unions around the country.  The Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, wants to curb the collective bargaining power of unions representing state employees as part of a plan to balance the state budget.  Union members in Wisconsin are protesting the move and are drawing support from union activists around the country.

For now, Wisconsin is the epicenter of an intensifying national debate over whether states should be able to force unions to give up some of their collective bargaining rights in order to reduce the mounting cost of government.

Wisconsin’s new Republican governor, Scott Walker, is demanding union concessions on collective bargaining power as part of a plan to balance the state budget.

"We are broke in this state because time and time again politicians of both political parties ran away from the tough decisions and punted them down the road (put off dealing with them) for another day," Walker said.

Thousands have protested the proposal in the state capital, Madison, and similar battles over the scope and power of union bargaining have cropped up in other states like Ohio, Indiana and New Jersey.

Related report by VOA's Kane Farabaugh

National labor leaders are taking note of the confrontation in Wisconsin, where Democrats in the state senate have fled to neighboring Illinois to deny Republicans a quorum for a vote on the governor’s proposal.

Richard Trumka is president of the nation’s largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO, which represents more than 12 million workers nationwide.

Trumka spoke on the CSPAN public affairs network.

"It is about weakening unions because having taken away collective bargaining rights does not do a single thing to help a budget deficit," Trumka said. "When you have a union and collective bargaining, you can work collectively to make those cuts."

Many Republicans around the country are cheering Governor Walker as a hero for insisting that unions give up some of their collective bargaining rights.

What happens to Walker in Wisconsin is being closely watched by other Republican governors pressing for union concessions in their states, including Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich.

Kasich argues it is essential for his state to reduce the obligations to state workers that include pension and health-care plans.  

"I am spending a lot of time talking to companies here that are being courted by other states," Kasich said. "If we keep losing jobs, we will not make it as a state."

Thousands of state workers have protested in Ohio as well, and the demonstrations are drawing national attention from union activists and members who fear victories by Republican governors at the state level would deal a severe setback to the power and influence of labor unions.

A retired truck driver and Teamsters Union member who gave his name as Michael spoke out on a CSPAN call-in program.

"All this kickback we keep getting about the unions nowadays, it seems like we are just dirty dogs," Michael said. "It looks to me like we need to do a little kicking back and show these folks that maybe we got a little bit of power left."

Labor experts say the battle in Wisconsin is serving as a wake-up call for unions around the country to stiffen their resolve in battles over their collective bargaining rights.

Professor Harley Shaiken is an expert on unions at the University of California at Berkeley.

"Wisconsin is serving as a galvanizing moment for labor," Shaiken said. "No union leader would have wished for this, but Wisconsin is causing many union leaders and members and others in the community to stand up against what they view as unfair treatment."

Although the battles in Wisconsin and other states are being cast as partisan, many states with Democratic governors are also facing daunting budget challenges and are demanding some concessions from unions, though not in the area of collective bargaining.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, has become a leader in the effort to demand concessions from unions as part of his effort to close a state funding gap.

Christie notes that Democratic governors in New York and California are demanding wage concessions from union workers.  Christie says it is time for political leaders to step up and make difficult decisions about budget cuts that they have long been unwilling to tackle.

"Leadership today in America today has to be about doing the big things and being courageous," Christie said. "Our country and our states are weighed down by an albatross of irresponsibility that we have foisted upon ourselves as leaders, and that you as citizens have permitted us to get away with."

Both sides in the dispute over union power will keep a close eye on public opinion.  A new Gallup poll found 61 percent of those asked would oppose a law in their state that restricted the collective bargaining power of unions.  But a Rasmussen survey found that 48 percent of likely voters support Governor Walker in the Wisconsin dispute, while 38 percent sided with the unions.

You May Like

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the US are seeing gas prices dip below $3 a gallon More

Afghan Women's Soccer Team Building for the Future

A four-team female league was recently set up in Kabul; It will help identify players for the national team More

Video Koreas on Edge Amid Live-fire Drills

Pyongyang threatens nuclear test as joint US, S. Korean exercises show forces’ capabilities More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid