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Home / Government / Recall is high-stakes bet for unions (UPDATE)

Recall is high-stakes bet for unions (UPDATE)

Associated Press

Gov. Scott Walker speaks to supporters Tuesday in Dane at the first of six campaign stops across the state. Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch spent the day campaigning around the state two months away from the June 5 recall election. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Unions are facing a make-or-break moment in their campaign to drive Wisconsin’s Republican governor from office.

If unions and their Democratic allies prevail in the recall — just over a year after Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation to curb collective bargaining rights for most public workers — it would send a powerful warning to other politicians who might try to limit union rights.

Unions also might find it easier to turn out more voters in November for President Barack Obama in this battleground state.

A Walker victory would be a stunning setback for organized labor.

“If we lose, it’s a shot in the mouth,” said Greg Junemann, president of the Professional and Technical Engineers union and a Milwaukee resident. “We can survive it, but we’ll be reeling.”

Unions have experienced mixed results over the past year in trying to beat back efforts in dozens of states to restrict bargaining rights, pass right-to-work laws or limit how unions collect dues.

They enjoyed a major victory in November when Ohio voters in a statewide referendum repealed a law limiting collective bargaining rights for the state’s public employees. But they fell short in an earlier recall campaign to wrest control of the Wisconsin Senate from Republicans and suffered a major defeat when Indiana this year became the first state in more than a decade to pass right-to-work legislation.

Recalling a sitting governor would be a major feat, something that’s happened only twice before in U.S. history.

“After devoting so much effort, energy and funds to the recall, unions have to show positive results or it will be judged to be a sign of a weakened labor movement,” said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “If they can’t win in one of the most liberal states, where can they win?”

The recall primary in Wisconsin is May 8, and the general election is June 5.

Such massive, costly campaigns have taken a toll on unions, diverting resources they could have spent helping political allies or organizing new members. Unions spent nearly $30 million turning out votes to repeal the Ohio measure and more than $12 million on the Wisconsin state Senate recall effort.

“Unions are not bottomless wells when it comes to resources for this stuff,” said former AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal. “As we’re forced to wage these fights to defend what we’ve got, it’s a win-win for the other side because they force us to spend a lot of money to plug holes in the dike.”

Unions and others had little trouble gathering more than 900,000 signatures to authorize a recall election for Wisconsin’s governor. Finding a suitably pro-union candidate to take on Walker has not so easy. Most unions have lined up behind former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who has pledged to veto any state budget that doesn’t reinstate collective bargaining rights.

But unions now face a new hurdle in Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who announced last month that he, too, would run in the Democratic primary, even after union leaders tried to talk him out of it. Barrett, who narrowly lost to Walker in 2010, has stronger statewide name recognition than Falk, but he has clashed with unions in the past and refused to take the unions’ veto pledge.

Barrett’s entry into the race means unions will have to spend even more money to boost Falk’s profile. It also puts them in a bind. They are reluctant to publicly attack Barrett for fear of damaging him in the event he wins the primary. Because their ultimate goal remains ousting Walker, they face the prospect of having to spend even more resources in the general election to support a Democrat they don’t really trust.

Falk has won the endorsement of the statewide teachers union and the largest union representing public workers. No unions have backed Barrett so far, but the head of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association has praised Barrett and there could be a rift if some unions rally behind the Milwaukee mayor.

Wisconsin’s largest public employees union got into trouble last week by directing its members to an Internet video that attacks Barrett and incorrectly implies that Barrett supported Walker’s plan to curb bargaining rights. The Wisconsin chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said it used poor judgment and acknowledged the video was “over the top.”

Rich Abelson, executive director of Wisconsin’s AFSCME District Council 48, suggested unions wanted to avoid negative attacks on Barrett. “Labor and AFSCME’s main priority is to defeat Scott Walker,” Abelson said.

Walker, meanwhile, is casting the recall as a battle with out-of-state “union bosses” who want to benefit from taxpayer money.

“This is about sending a message about don’t mess with us or we’ll take you out no matter who you are,” Walker said in an interview with The Associated Press. “For all the talk about collective bargaining, for the national unions it’s really about the money.”

Walker has already raised more than $12.1 million for the race — the majority of it from out-of-state donors — breaking a previous fundraising record that Walker himself set in the 2010 governor’s race. Unions plan to spend at least as much as they spent on the state Senate recall campaign.

Walker’s proposal, which passed the Republican-controlled Legislature despite massive protests and all 14 Senate Democrats fleeing to Illinois for three weeks, targeted only public workers and exempted most fire and police officers.

It forced state and local government employees, including teachers, to pay more for health insurance and pension benefits, and stripped away collective bargaining rights except over salary increases no greater than inflation. It also did away with automatic dues withdrawals and forced annual votes for the unions to stay officially recognized.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


  1. How about a spin from the majority side…

    MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Average Working Citizens are facing a make-or-break moment in their campaign to keep Wisconsin’s Republican governor in office.

    If unions and their Democratic allies prevail in the recall — the Walker fixes will be all Falked up, and we can’t Barrett. Just over a year after Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation to curb collective bargaining priviledges, as they are NOT ‘rights’ for public workers — it would send the state right back to huge debts, higher taxes, more unemployment and layoffs, in other words…we’d become Illinois-north. A powerful warning to other politicians who might try to limit union rights, to stick to their principals, and do what they were elected to do, to spite powereful special interests hostile take over.

    A Walker defeat would be a stunning setback for everyone in the entire state, except for a few in organized labor.

    A final thought. This whole article cites the union collective bargaining aspect as a main issue in the recall. Graham Zelinski himself, Democrat leader acknowledges that this is a losing issue with the voters. Isn’t it interesting that the sole reason for the recall, will barely even be talked about during the campaign…. Shame! Shame! Shame!

  2. Right, the media keeps saying that union bargaining is the key issue in the Scott Walker recall, but it’s long since gone far beyond that. It’s about Scott Walker’s sheer arrogance over the past fifteen months, and it’s about that nobody likes a bully.

    Scott Walker squeaked by with a 52% majority in 2010 after he took millions in campaign dollars from Koch Industries; Texas builder Bob Perry; Target Enterprises; and many other powerful corporate interests with the goal of promoting corporate profits and creating a permanent underclass of loyal drones.

    Remember Walker threatening to declare martial law on public protestors with the Wisconsin National Guard leveling their rifles at anyone who took offense at his methods? Remember Walker saying the WNG was “prepared to respond if there is any unrest among state employees”? Actually threatening citizens exercising their constitutional right to assembly and free speech? Remember Kent State in May of 1970, and the Memphis sanitation strike in 1968?

    Scott Walker rams his policies through as “budget provisions” where no public hearings are needed and he can press the legislature for a quick-hurry-up vote. Hey, Walker’s big-corporation pals can’t even get away with stuff like that in their businesses.

    Besides being a bully, Walker is a blunderer. Walker handed Wisconsin’s $810 million federal stimulus grant back to Washington. Now other states are now using Wisconsin’s money for their purposes while Wisconsin taxpayers pay millions for things that grant would have covered, like $69.7 million for two Hiawatha trains and incidentals. That would have been covered by that $810 million federal stimulus grant that Washington pulled when Walker was elected.

    That grant also would have covered about $150 million in contingencies. Talgo was contracted to have a maintenance base to service its trains that it builds, and Walker knew all the time that Century City was to be the three-year maintenance base after the trains began running, and that plus the brand-new maintenance base would have been paid for by Wisconsin’s lost $810 million federal grant, as would new trains and a new $52 million permanent base in Madison with all its related jobs, and $20.4 million worth of mandated accessibility changes to the Milwaukee station, also to be covered by the $810 million federal grant … that Scott Walker wasted.

    Do the math.

    Scott Walker got in by play-acting like just a regular guy who’d keep an eye on the checkbook. Then, when the mask fell off, the voters found to their horror they had instead ordained the “Baron of Wisconsin”.

    THAT’S what this recall’s all about.

  3. What the media says is irrelevant, half of “the media” are in your camp as signers the recall petition. The unions defined the issue, and that issue was all about collective bargaining and public employees finally contributing a portion to their own pensions and healthcare…like the rest of us. How horrible indeed!
    The recall is all about 10 to 14% of the states population, mostly union workers, not liking what the rest of us voted him to do….trim the fat from the budget. So it all depends on who’s ox is being goared. For ten tears it;s been us, and we silently took it, paid more and more taxes, while going deeper in debt. We voted to change direction, and now it’s the union and that’s horrible, Recall! Recall! Crucify him!
    I find it, off the chart laughable, to be lectured about bullying by the union, which defines them and their tactics to a tee.

  4. Tea
    If its only about the 10 to 14% of the states population or just union workers as you say — relax you and your tea publican friends have nothing to fear — you and the Koch brother win —
    I just find it odd the GOP and all its super pack hired guns would be throwing away hundreds of millions of dollars on attack adds here in Wisconsin on a race that by your logic is a slam dunk for your side.

    Brad is ‘right on’ in his assessment — this recall is about a lot more — Waker ran on jobs and balancing a budget, he could have set the corner stone of “shared sacrifice and compromise” and truly bring Wisconsin fiscal house in order — instead what he and the Fritz brothers did was first demonize pubic employees and bust the unions so he could balance the budget on their backs and give more tax brakes to his wealthy backers and corporations — then make a power grab with the redistricting and voter id — its been one far right ideological agenda and nothing about jobs except losing them (see Talgo) — Wisconsin is fed up with the toxic political environment that Waker has unleashed with his no compromise “my way or no way” style. They are waking up and saying who is next on the list — he got the teachers and county workers and broke their backs to fill the state coffers for more corporate give aways and now they need more so who will it be ?? you, ,me your neighbor ? you can bet it wont be corporations or the super wealthy — That’s why the GOP and there super packs are spending all that money in Wisconsin — they know they have to get the 99% fighting among themselves so the 1% can win again

  5. I never said, nor do I believe in the end, the election will be a slam dunk. I’m not that naive, and I realize that there are many super pack hired guns, on both sides, for that to happen. What I said, and it’s undeniable truth, the RECALL was mainly about collective bargaining, and Walkers “attack” on unions. That however, is a losing proposition, and in the words of the union head himself, “that issue doesn’t move the needle with voters”, The ELECTION therefore, has to become far more than that. If you are to have success, you must use a more effective tool. None more effective than the class envy, hate the rich, greedy corporations, fairness tool. That is a powerful human emotion, (clearly displayed by your comments) and one that Obama himself just may successfully use to ride into a second term on, despite pathetic job performance, and failure in all aspects as President. There is no reason to grant him a second term based on merit, but his pledge to go after millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share, may just be enough, we’ll see.
    Everything you want, higher taxes, union control, attacks on corporations, is all proudly on display just to the south, in Illinois. They did it your way. They have raised taxes, gone after business, and have an out of control ballooning budget hole. Their spending is unsustainable. There is almost no level of taxation that would save them in this economy. They have one of the worst bond ratings in the country and thus will need to be closing 14 state facilities, laying off thousands of workers. That was our path under Doyle, and Falk has pledged to return us to that. Great campaign by the way, “taking Wisconsin back”, no truer words were ever spoken. How about something a little more positive, this state can’t afford to go back…I digress.
    We have balanced the budget, had almost no layoffs, and property taxes went down for the first time in twelve years. Employment is on the rise, and we’re becoming more business-friendly. (you know…where jobs come from)
    You get so caught up with your bitter hatred of big business, who do you think provides jobs and economic growth? Further, if you think the unions don’t qualify as a large, powerful, out of state special interest, ‘super pack of hired guns’, spending millions to gain power and force their agenda…you’re blindly naive. I guess you’re OK with them, because they’re yours, eveyone elses are evil.
    Do I think big business super packs are trying to help win the election for Walker? Yeah of course I do! I have the ability to see, and think objectively. And so also, are the Unions…the only difference is, businesses (the ‘rich’) create jobs and help the economy, while unions do not. You see, I don’t hate businesses for being rich. I call that, ‘job security’.
    If you need, I can get you and Brad a good deal with a moving company to help you relocate to Illinois. I’m sure you’ll be much happier there.
    Just Please….Don’t Ill-annoy-us, in Wisconsin.

  6. TEA
    you really think A million people signed recall petitions because it was just about collective bargaining — I think you are the one that is naive or perhaps unable to think objectively. What Walker and his Tea-publican friends seem to forget was they won with 52% of vote hardly a mandate. Walker and the Republicans had a choice They could have engaged the 48% that did not vote for him or his agenda and include them in the conversation,and I am sure Walker would have gotten much of what he wanted and put Wisconsin in the Republican column for many years to come but you see that would have taken compromise and respect for a difference of opinion something the Republicans seem to have taken out of their vocabulary.

  7. First, it wasn’t a million, but let’s not quible about it, we’re past that. Second, I’ll try to be more clear, as you don’t seem to be getting my point. You are correct and I completely agree that where we are now, the signing of petitions, and looming recall election is indeed not just about collective bargaining. How it all began…was.
    The union led protests, the hostile takeover of the capitol, the threats of violence against anyone in opposition, the physical threats, including death threats to republican congressmen and their families, the trashing of the capitol building and grounds, the drumbeats, and disruption in the chamber of yells of shame, the illegal sick days that shut down entire school systems, …that was all about collective bargaining, which then led to the petitions, which have now evolved to much more. OK (as a side note, to Brads comment; when you act like an angry violent ‘Kent State’ mob…you cannot be critical of a police presence that responds in kind to that level of security threat)
    Lastly, it’s difficult to include someone in a conversation…who is not there, on the job, doing their job, as they chose instead to flee to Illinois. Who thought the best way to stem this tide was not to engage in debate at all, but rather try to shut down the entire process. This is what democracy looks like, we were told…OK. It’s difficult to engage in conversation when you’re constantly being shouted down in the chamber by an angry mob. Yes, please, tell me again about this engaged conversation, compromise, and respect for difference of opinion that the democrats, according to you, are the perfect examples of. I don’t seem to remember any of that.
    Contrary to democrat spin, everything that Walker did, was within the rules that govern the chamber, and attempts to show otherwise were not upheld in the high court. Fact is, you can’t engage in debate someone who decides to just “take the ball and go home”

  8. Tea
    When Act 10 was first made public, (on a weekend) Unions were first to mobilize. Because we are organized it allowed us to take action much quicker than the general public who were still in the dark on just what Act 10 was about — You seem to have a selective memory, Republicans keep-ed Act 10 under raps till the last moment and were prepared to pass it in five days — alowing little or no debate and certainly no compromises or chance of some changes to the bill — so that is why the Democratic Senators left the state — to stop the railroading of this bill and give the people of Wisconsin time to find out and understand every thing that was in Act 10. —

    I was there most days of the protests, what I saw was democracy in action tens of thousands of people banding together peacefully demonstrating thier displeasure with what our government was doing — was there a strong union representation ? you bet — but as the days went by and more of what was in Act 10 was revealed because of the absent senators and the media attention it was now creating there were more and more people that did not have a union card in thier pocket taking part in the protests —
    You say what Walker did was with in the rules of the chamber — that maybe so — but was it good governing ? was it the right thing to do ? was it how the people of Wisconsin expect or wanted our government to conduct the peoples business?

    In closing I would like to pose a hypothetical question — if the table was turned and lets say the Democrats were about to pass a bill that would make unionizing workers much easier such as the employee free choice act and they did it in similar fashion that Walker used for Act 10 but this time the Republican senators left the sate to stop the bill giving more time for public awareness and media attention on the bill would you sill be so quick to condemn there actions?

  9. Point taken…sort of like the democrats at the national level pushing through Obamacare in closed door sessions, and casting the final vote with zero republican support, on Christmas eve, citing the now famous “we must pass this, so we can see what’s in it” montra.
    So after much thought, the hypothetical you pose, oddly enough, is actually pretty close to what we had under Doyle, and it became unsustainable. The only difference is, we let his policies play out, after all, while we didn’t like him, he did win the election. It was a total failure, and thus we worked hard, made our case to the people, and a change of direction was voted for in Walker…only now, the democrats are unwilling to grant that same courtesy.
    As for act 10; taxes down, more money in the class rooms, state-wide over 1200 new teacher hires, almost no layoffs, budgets balanced, and the business comunity more optimistic about hiring and job growth than they have been for nearly 10 years. Interestingly, the only areas where that is not true are Milwaukee, Janesville, and a few other communities that rushed to pass an extension of the old contracts, not allowing them to operate under the Act 10 guidelines. Also interesting, the one thing that is holding the state back from even more job growth, is the level of uncertainty by business owners of the recall election. God forbid, if Walker loses, we go right back to where we were…an environment hostile to business, and the hiring growth will cease. Under Doyle, a survey of business owners showed just shy of 20% viewed Wiscnsin as having a ‘favorable business climate’, Under Walker, and after Act 10 that same survey now shows over 80% view Wsconsin as a favorable business climate. You may hate these “1%-ers” but they are the job creators and the drivers of the economy. So, on the “conducting of the peoples busines”, I’d say we’re on the right track.
    And finally…yes, if 14 republican senators left the state in the same fashion, I honestly would indeed condemn their actions. I’d hold them in very low regard, and would deffinately not vote for any of them when they come up for re-election. I don’t care who it is, it’s classless and cowardly. Further, I don’t give a rats behind whether someone is Democrat or Republican, Union or non-union, I care only, that whoever is in power, makes the state as a whole, better off, not worse off. You know…the needs of the many, outweighing the needs of the few. Every indicator, when looked at objectively, shows we’re better off now, and heading in the right direction. If, however, you are in the public union, and have had it your way for so long…understandably, you don’t share that feeling, and indeed for them on a personal level, things are not better now, than how they were, I get that. If I was paying little to nothing for my healthcare, and pension, and suddenly had to pay, hell yeah, I wouldn’t like it either. I would like to think after time I’d come to realize, I still had it better than most in the private sector. Not that that’s some sort of consolation, I still don’t have to like it, but it is the reality.

  10. Republican Gov. Scott Walker handed out bonuses to over 210 state workers despite Wisconsin’s $143 million deficit and non-raised state workers being made to contribute more towards health care and retirement. His mouthpiece says he’s “rewarding outstanding work”.

    Recall when the Department of Justice didn’t have the money to fund some services
    for sexual assault victims last year? The DOJ gave nearly $300,000 to 94 workers “to keep good people.”

    Recall Asst. Atty. Gen. Maria Lazar who defended Walker in that well-publicized collective-bargaining thing and also Republican-based redistricting? She got a $1,000 bonus and a raise in salary to $104,730.

    Recall Dep. Atty. Gen. Kevin St. John, who defended Walker’s stance in collective-bargaining in the state Supreme Court,? He got a $5,000 annual raise to $134,307.

    Recall the UW System’s $250 million budget cut last year and $46 muillion this year? The UW paid around $300,000 in raises and bonuses while tuition went up by 5.5%.

    Recall Scott Walker.

  11. Without having all the facts, for the sake of discussion, I’ll accept the basics of what you’re saying as generally true. If you want me to defend that type of spending, or apparent abuse of power, I won’t. I don’t agree with it, and I don’t care who’s doing it. I’m very pleased that you see it as an outrage, I only wish you’d have seen it when far worse was being done under the previous administration.
    I don’t happen to have a high level of trust of any politician. Though misunderstood, that’s the essence of the tea party, trying to restore a higher level of accountability of government to the citizen taxpayer. The difference between you and me, you’re OK with anything they do, as long as your interests are protected.
    If you want to cite bad policy, wasteful, over-the-top spending, Walker, with all his flaws, doesn’t hold a candle to the previous administrations waste, and abuse of power in regards to spending that got us where we are.
    As for ‘doing the math’ as you said earlier…that’s exactly what I’m doing. Under Doyle, higher taxes every year, high unemployment, increased, unsustainable debt to the tune of 3.6 billion in the hole, with no regard to the state constitution requiring a balanced budget… and now under Walker, with all of his flaws…we have none of that, and are operating under a balanced budget.
    I don’t recall any attempt by democrats to do anything other than raise taxes, and try to shill for more federal money (and where do you think that comes from?)
    And for that he is being recalled…OK

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