Depriving WI Unions of Their Right to Bargain

How specifically has Gov. Walker of WI deprived unions of their right to bargain? This is a theme I hear repeated a great deal, but I am not clear on the specifics.

I believe he wants to pass legislation that unions can not get more than an 8% increase overall in pay+benefits, and that unions must re-certify every year. Is there more to it, or is that “depriving unions of their right to bargain”?

Please keep in mind that this is GQ, not GD.


I think the big one is that he wants to make union membership - and dues - optional.


Do you mean the yearly re-certification? Or does he want to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state?

It doesn’t appear that the teacher’s unions, who are making a lot of the noise, are being brought under civil service. Is the limit of no more than an 8% increase overall what they are talking about when they say they will no longer have the right to bargain?

Thanks in advance.


The proposed legislation would end “dues check-off” by which union dues are automatically deducted from each employee’s paycheck. Union would have to collect them, and employees would have the option to avoid this by not being a union member. Many on both sides of the debate believe this would mean a significant reduction in union revenue, and thus political power.

So the big issue is that workers will no longer be compelled to join an organization they might not want to join in order to earn a living?

Nowhere in the United States is being a union member a requirement of holding a job. In non-right-to-work states, you can still be compelled to pay agency fees despite not being a union member. The agency fee is a very slight discount off of union dues.

For all the fervor over this issue and right-to-work in general, that’s the difference: whether you pay or not.

Doesn’t the Screen Actors Guild require membership after 30 days of work?

Here’s the actual bill:

From the Legislative Summary:

The bill does a bunch of other stuff too…increase the percentages state and municipal employees have to contribute to their pension and health care, and a bunch of other stuff related to public health and assistance to the poor, but it’s the collective bargaining section that has state workers so upset.

One of the things you must understand is that a union contract applies to all employees. That is, if the union negotiates a particular wage, or gets certain benefits, every employee gets those benefits whether or not they’re a member of the union.

To the union (and it’s members) non-union members are simply getting a free ride. They pay no dues, don’t put their career on the line, yet get all of the benefits that the union negotiates. And, that even includes the right to union representation in disciplinary hearings.

Looking at it this way, you can see why non-union people may be forced to help pay union dues. They are getting all the costly benefits of union representation, so why not pay for them?

You might not agree with this sentiment. In fact, I am not in 100% agreement in it myself. You may have to pay dues, but you might not be able to actually join the union. And, if there is a strike which includes a lockout (which affects non-union employees), those non-union employees don’t get union compensation.

About 20 years ago, we looked into unionizing, but decided it wasn’t for us developers. Unions are about keeping things the same. You don’t do that because your job and rank doesn’t allow you to do that.

Basically, you’re suppose to keep your head down, and do your job in a half-hearted manner and you’ll be able to work there for 20 years. That might work our well for assembly line workers, but it doesn’t really appeal to developers who want to learn as many skills as possible and tend to hop from company to company.

Perhaps because they don’t feel that what the union negotiates is beneficial to them. Possibly they feel that if allowed to negotiate separately, they could do better.

It’s also possible they disagree with what the union does with the dues they were forced to pay. They may, for example, wish to support political positions and candidates different from the ones the union supports.

Workers can always work somewhere else. Or is that only an acceptable solution when we’re talking about workers getting a bad deal from their employers?

Do you really believe that this attack upon union membership is limited to just the matter in the proposed bill?

It’s obvious that there is a reason behind all this, or why go to all this hassle.This is the enabling legislation which will then allow much further attacks upon terms and conditions.

It is probably more significant for the lesser skilled staff rather than those who are not readily replaced.

This is very much thin end of the wedge.

Is this really true? Cite? Does this apply to management? Where does the line get drawn?

I’m just ignorant of unions, I guess, because I never understood all the fuss. Don’t Americans have a right to free assembly? Beyond that, why does the law have to be involved at all? If everybody decides to quit at once, the employer can either say “good riddance, I’ll find more” or “please come back, let’s negotiate”. I don’t see why anybody should be forced to go on strike if they don’t want to, either.

I don’t want to tread beyond GQ though. I’m just trying to get a handle on the issues.

Thanks, CA.


A union agreement (based on Canadian experience) typically applies to the “rank and file” workers. Employees who habitually manage others or decide issues like hiring, firing and discipline are designanted management and (except maybe for the bottom level in some situations) not part of the union. Otherwise, this might put the union in the position of having to defend both sides in a dispute; when the manager is acting on behalf of the employer, he/she is “on the other side”.

In Canada, the typical union rule applies - yes, an employee who opts out is still covered by all the protections included to union employees. However, in several jurisdictions I’ve seen, the dues are still deducted, the employee just designates a registered charity to receive the money.

Obviously, if dues were optional, an employer could hand the applicant the opt-out paper and say “we will decide whether to hire you after you have completed all these papers.”

One important rule for most union situations is seniority. Except for cause (theft, insubordination, etc.) a union employee cannot be fired; and most cause can be appealed to an independent arbitrator if the union feels the alleged cause is unfair. “Layoff” - sorry, not enough work for all of you - must happen in order of least seniority. So a boss cannot arbitrarily fire the ones he dislikes and promote his favorites to better paying positions. If you are qualified enough to do the job, you are the equal of everyone else in the job. (That may work for assembly-line workers, but not always the best strategy for software developers… For teachers, it doesn’t seem fair except that office politics seems nastiest in the education system.)

All these are the “non-monetary” contract provisions which I asume the governor eventually hopes to remove from Wisconsin contracts?

It’s been my experience that employers get the unions they deserve.

It depends on what the NLRB considers your bargaining group. When we unionized, legacy management-level employees that weren’t in a management position were forced into the group. To have actual managers in the group would be a huge conflict of interest. (Thank goodness everyone saw the light, we never approved a contract, and finally won decertification.)

The government is involved because the government is responsible for enforcing contracts entered into freely, and entering freely into a contract is a basic right. Of course we have other basic rights, and sometimes they conflict with one another.

No one is forced in the literal sense.

IANAL. Would someone who IAL please tell me if I’m reading this correctly?

If the bill becomes law, municipal and state employee unions would only be allowed to negotiate pay increases and not any other part of the contract (e.g., working conditions, safety, grievance procedures, firing, etc.). In no case would they be allowed to negotiate a pay increase higher than a cost-of-living increase.

Groups that are currently unionized would have to re-vote every year whether or not to stay unionized.

Any union-negotiated contract would be limited to covering one year. At the end of that year, a new contract would have to be negotiated; they couldn’t just extend the current contract.

Union dues would no longer be automatically deducted from union members’ paychecks; the unions would have to set up a collection mechanism of their own. An employee would be able to not pay dues and still be represented by the union.

Some employees (see the list in the final paragraph) would no longer be allowed to unionize.
Thank you, Cap, for finding and posting this. It answers a lot of questions. (I just hope I understand those answers.)

These articles helped me:

OK, I know the second is a press release from the gov’s office… I’d have to verify the information elsewhere, but reading both give you the gist of why some believe collective bargaining in public sector unions must be limited.