Embattled Wisconsin labor unions think they would see an end to union-busting policies if Wisconsin were governed by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, who is challenging Gov. Scott Walker this fall — and are spending big to help him get there.
In a measured speech punctuated by fiery screeds from two other labor leaders on Tuesday, Evers bemoaned Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and said he’d repair them — without offering specifics. Evers spoke to a crowd gathered at the Wisconsin AFL-CIO’s annual meeting, where Stephanie Bloomingdale, formerly secretary-treasurer, was elected the first female leader of the labor group.
Richard Trumka, president of the national AFL-CIO, said Wisconsin’s governor’s race — in which a recent poll found Evers leading Walker — could be the light at the end of a very dark seven-year tunnel for Wisconsin unions. Between 2011 and 2016, a period marked by the adoption of Act 10, Wisconsin’s union membership fell some 40 percent, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The vicious attacks on our unions have brought us closer together, they showed us the need and the power of solidarity,” Trumka said. “They showed us that, ultimately, if you stand together you can prevail.”
More than half of the Evers campaign’s committee contributions so far have come from construction-trade groups, according to a campaign finance report for August. Wisconsin trades unions such as the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 and the Wisconsin Laborers District Council — each of which kicked in $86,000 — have out-spent teachers unions on the campaign.
Of the $706,600 Evers raised in August, construction unions contributed $404,000. Teachers unions, meanwhile, spent $118,000. Altogether, Evers raised $1.9 million in August and had $1.6 million worth of cash on-hand. Walker had not filed his report by deadline Tuesday, which was due by midnight.
Local 139 has also released a series of campaign ads attacking Walker over the condition of the state’s roads, spending more than $350,000 on radio ads through an issue group called Safe Transportation Over Politics. The group’s ads lampoon Walker for refusing to find ways to raise more money for roads.
“There’s a reason they call pot holes Scott-holes,” Evers said. “He owns that. He’s the only one. There are other Republicans that want to change that. He owns that issue. And he’s also going to own the issue around wages. And he’s also going to own the issue around schools.”
Recent polling suggests that deteriorating roads could help drive voters to the polls this November. Both campaigns have taken notice. After winning his primary, Evers campaigned throughout Wiscosnin with two construction unions to attack Walker over the state of the Wisconsin’s roads. He has offered few specifics, however, saying only that “all options are on the table” — including tax increases.
Evers did not float any ideas for reparing roads during his speech Tuesday, either. He had plenty of criticism for Wisconsin roads, though, calling the state’s infrastructure “horrible” and a “mess.”
“Why have 20 municipalities around the state put in wheel taxes — raised their taxes?” Evers said, referring to a vehicle-registration fee that local governments have increasingly adopted to pay for infrastructure projects. “Because the roads are so bad. Scott Walker raised those local taxes.”
Walker, meanwhile, has floated proposals in recent weeks to increase road spending and has said that he, later this month will release a full plan for repairing Wisconsin roads.
Walker held an event at a rest stop in Milton on Tuesday to announce that he plans to advance $70 million to complete a section of the ongoing reconstruction of Interstate 39/90, one from running Janesville to Edgerton, a year ahead of schedule. On Monday, he had told a crowd at a Wisconsin Counties Association meeting that he’d increase General Transportation Aids for counties by 30 percent, a change that would bring the amount of money set aside for county roads up from $111 million in 2018 to $168 million a year.
Mahlon Mitchell, who ran against Evers in a crowded August Democratic primary, introduced Evers at Tuesday’s event. As president of Wisconsin’s firefighters union, he attracted a wave of union support during the primary race.
“They always say, you know, Scott Walker has a plan for you,” Mitchell said. “Scott Walker has a plan for Tony Evers. They have a plan for the Democrats. They had a plan for unions with Act 10. They had a plan to get rid of (project-labor agreements). I always return to a quote Mike Tyson said when he became champ: Everybody has a plan until I punch them in the (expletive) face.” Follow @natebeck9