Dramatic drop in union membership among WI public employees
In advance of Governor Scott Walker's recall election next Tuesday, national public employee unions are nervously awaiting the outcome -- an outcome that might determine the fate of other state unions and public employees nationwide.
Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees-the state's second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers-fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, according to a person who has viewed Afscme's figures. A spokesman for Afscme declined to comment.
Much of that decline came from Afscme Council 24, which represents Wisconsin state workers, whose membership plunged by two-thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.
A provision of the Walker law that eliminated automatic dues collection hurt union membership. When a public-sector contract expires the state now stops collecting dues from the affected workers' paychecks unless they say they want the dues taken out, said Peter Davis, general counsel of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.
In many cases, Afscme dropped members from its rolls after it failed to get them to affirm they want dues collected, said a labor official familiar with Afscme's figures. In a smaller number of cases, membership losses were due to worker layoffs.
Tina Pocernich, a researcher at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, was a dues-paying union member for 15 years. But after the Walker law went into effect she told the American Federation of Teachers she wanted out.
"It was a hard decision for me to make," said Ms. Pocernich, a 44-year-old mother of five, who left the union in March. "But there's nothing the union can do anymore."
But economic factors also played a role. Mr. Walker required public-sector employees to shoulder a greater share of pension and health-care costs, which ate up an added $300 of Ms. Pocernich's monthly salary of less than $3,100. She and her husband, a floor supervisor at a machine shop, cut back on their satellite-TV package and stopped going to weekly dinners at Applebee's.
There is a lot at stake for organized labor in this recall vote. But perhaps not unexpectedly, the voting public has largely moved on from the collective bargaining controversy and now see jobs and jobs creation as the primary issue for the recall vote. A win will be interpreted by labor bosses as vindication rather than a general unhappiness with the Wisconsin economy. That only proves how truly out of touch they are with ordinary people who don't see the unions representing their interests anymore.