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.


    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.