Union organizing increasing as new contracts die in state SenateWisconsin News
-- Faculty-and-staff members at four more UW campuses have filed petitions to unionize. More than two-thirds of educators at Stevens Point, Stout, River Falls, and La Crosse have asked the state Employment Relations Commission to schedule union elections. If they’re all approved, around 1,200 staffers would join the American Federation of Labor.
RIVER FALLS - Faculty-and-staff members at four more UW campuses have filed petitions to unionize. More than two-thirds of educators at Stevens Point, Stout, River Falls, and La Crosse have asked the state Employment Relations Commission to schedule union elections. If they’re all approved, around 12-hundred staffers would join the American Federation of Labor.
They were the last state employees to be given collective bargaining rights. The outgoing Democratic majority placed it into the state budget a year-and-a-half ago. Now, Republican Governor-elect Scott Walker has talked about decertifying unions if it’s necessary to cut costs and reduce the state’s budget deficit. But River Falls journalism professor Patricia Berg says it’s all the more reason for employees to unionize. She said the incoming Walker administration would create a hostile environment for public workers. Stevens Point math professor Andy Feit says UW bargaining rights are long overdue. He says it gives the faculty a more equal voice in how things are run. Staffers at Eau Claire and Superior have voted to join the American Federation of Teachers.
The State Senate will not try again to ratify union contracts for state employees. Leaders ended their lame-duck session this morning, after Senate Democrats tried and failed last night to approve 17 past-due contracts. Democrats wanted to approve the deals before Republican Governor-elect Scott Walker could take office and try-to-win further concessions from the unions to help balance the state budget. Had the contracts been ratified, Walker said other things like Medicaid would have had to be reduced. But Democrats said the unions have done their part to balance the budget. And Senate Democrats removed their leader Russ Decker for going against them and voting no. Also, Assembly Democrats have taken lots of heat after Independent Jeff Wood – who’s serving jail time for OWI – was allowed to leave his work release job at a ShopKo store to drive to Madison. He cast the deciding vote for the Democrats when the Assembly passed the deals yesterday.
The head of the Wisconsin state employees union is outraged at results of Wednesday’s legislative vote on state labor contracts. The Assembly narrowly approved the deal while the Senate’s 16-16 split prevented the contracts from going further. Russ Decker, along with Jeff Plale, are Senate Democrats who voted with side Republicans against the contracts. Marty Beil, the union’s executive director, questions Decker’s reasoning. Beil accuses Plale of swapping an opposing vote for an appointment in the upcoming Walker administration.
The two-year contracts – which were supposed to take effect in June of 2009 – effectively cut the employees’ pay by three-point-three percent, because of the unpaid furloughs that workers have had to take. They also called for a five-percent increase in employee health insurance contributions. But Assembly GOP leader Jeff Fitzgerald told WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee this morning that the contracts also had hidden benefit increases – like more vacation time. But he said he couldn’t decipher them all, because his party only had a few hours to review the hundreds of pages of contract language.