APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — Labor unions, which have seen a decline in power in Wisconsin in the last four years, say they will have a voice during the 2016 election, and they plan to speak up on issues like minimum wage and fair scheduling.
Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of AFL-CIO Wisconsin, told Appleton Post-Crescent Media that unions are more politically engaged than ever before, partly due to changes in collective bargaining rights passed in 2011 and the more recent approval of right-to-work laws this summer.
“Union members understand what’s at stake right now in 2016 more than they ever have before,” Bloomingdale said. “Families are at a breaking point in terms of their ability to sustain healthy communities. People are angry about this and ready to take action.”
She said union members plan to speak up on issues such as minimum wage, income inequality, paid family leave and fair scheduling. Their message was delivered at Labor Day parades and other gatherings statewide Monday.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership has steadily dropped in Wisconsin in the last 10 years. In 2004, 16 percent of workers belonged to unions, compared with 11.7 percent in 2014.
Labor unions regularly support Democratic candidates over Republicans. Between 2000 and 2014, labor groups gave $541 million to Democratic candidates compared to $51 million to Republican candidates.
Michael Bolton, United Steelworkers District 2 director, said he expects an energized labor force when the elections draw near.
AFL-CIO and United Steelworkers District 2 have both endorsed former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in his Senate race against incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Feingold has recently called for a steady minimum wage increase to $15 from $7.25 an hour, while Johnson does not support an increase.
Johnson believes regulations on businesses and “reckless” government spending don’t encourage private growth that helps workers, said Brian Reisinger, a Johnson campaign spokesman. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican candidate for president, also believes a minimum wage increase would cut jobs. He has said he’d rather help bridge a skills gap through technical training.
Bloomingdale said union members will counter that message by knocking on doors, working phone banks and talking with co-workers and friends.