By Steve Gunn
MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says one of the goals behind Act 10, his landmark legislation that clipped the power of most public sector unions, was to give workers more freedom to decide if they wanted to belong to a union.
He’s apparently accomplished his mission. Several of the largest public sector unions in the state have lost thousands of members over the past few years, and a great deal of wealth and political power, as well.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, lost about half of its 98,000 members since Act 10 became law in 2011, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
That means WEAC has lot approximately half of its annual income from membership dues, which has impacted its ability to remain a force on the state political scene.
“The financial pressure has caused the union to cut a large share of its staff,” the news report said. “For a time last year, union executives considered selling WEAC’s prominent hilltop headquarters on the south side of Madison. The union’s board stepped in and put a halt to the idea, according to sources familiar with the matter.”
Other public sector unions have suffered big losses, as well.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 48 lost nearly two-thirds of its approximately 9,000 members, the news report said. As a result the union is now more than $650,000 in debt.
AFSCME District Council 40, another branch of the same union, has lost 36 percent of its membership, the news report said.
The Wisconsin State Employees Union has lost more than half of its members, dropping from roughly 22,000 to somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 members, according to the newspaper.
Some people say this is all the result of Walker’s war on unions. They note that public sector unions have long been active in the Democratic Party, and claim GOP governors like Walker have used their power to attack the unions for political purposes.
There’s probably something to that argument, but so what? Most special interests are smart enough to make friends on both sides of the political aisle, so they can continue to remain relevant when power shifts from one party to the other.
That’s a smart way to go.
But the unions have stubbornly stuck almost exclusively with Democrats and worked hard to defeat Republicans in every election cycle. They shouldn’t have been surprised when the Republicans finally decided to fight back.
But all politics aside, there’s nothing wrong with allowing public employees to determine if they want to belong to a union. Mandatory union membership, which was the norm for decades, is clearly wrong. This is America, and nobody should be forced to belong to any organization they don’t want to join, just to secure and maintain employment.
The diminishing number of union members is more a reflection of the unions themselves that it is on Walker or his policies. Nobody forced so many employees to leave the unions. The new law simply unlocked their cage and allowed them to leave if they wanted to.
The fact that so many took advantage suggests that public sector unions can only thrive when they have thousands of imprisoned members who have dues involuntarily deducted from their paychecks.
If that’s the case, should their sudden demise be considered a tragedy or a happy liberation for thousands of trapped workers who simply wanted their freedom?