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Worker freedom erodes Big Labor

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — As President Joe Biden pays a call on Wisconsin today, he’ll be greeted by declining union ranks.

The Badger State’s shrinking organized labor presence has much to do with worker freedom achieved through the state’s right to work laws.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership in Wisconsin dropped to 7.9 percent in 2021, from 8.7 percent in 2020. Organized labor rates spiked during the outbreak of COVID-19 because of a “disproportionately large decline in the total number of nonunion workers” — thanks to so many people locked out of work by government stay-at-home orders.

Wisconsin’s union membership rate is a long way from its peak of nearly 21 percent in 1989.

Nationally, 10.3 percent of the workforce signed up for a union in 2021. Declines have been steepest in Wisconsin

Approximately 215,000 Wisconsin workers were members of a union in 2021, a decline of nearly 125,000 since 2011, according to BLS. That’s when Act 10 was passed by Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The landmark government reform dramatically checked the outsized power of public sector labor unions at collective bargaining tables, returning greater control back to taxpayers. Act 10 holds wage increases to the rate of inflation and requires public employees to contribute more — in some cases, something — to their health insurance, pensions and other benefits.

The law has saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $15 billion over the past decade-plus.

More important to worker freedom, Act 10 demanded union locals hold an annual recertification vote. All workers finally have an annual say in whether they want a dues-grabbing union representing them. The law requires 51% of all union members to vote in favor of continuing the union in order to meet recertification.

According to a Wisconsin Public Policy Forum report, 963 public sector unions in Wisconsin held recertification votes between November 2011 and the end of 2021, with 318 passing.

Act 10 also gave public employees the right to opt out of union dues. And Workers tired of their dues going to politics — mostly liberal causes — have voted with their feet.

The same happened for private sector unions after 2015, when Wisconsin became the 25th right to work state. The law ended forced unionization in Wisconsin.

Union membership has dropped from about 306,000 workers in 2014, a year before the right to work law went into effect, to 215,0000 last year.

“Wisconsin is a Right to Work state, which means employees can’t be forced into a union, thus giving both the businesses and employees more autonomy. As a result, companies are attracted to the state and have success here,” the National Right to Work Committee said pointing to several Wisconsin companies that have announced major expansions since Wisconsin joined the right to work ranks.

Despite the steep declines in membership, Big Labor keeps pumping out hefty contributions to Democrats and liberal causes. Public sector unions dumped more than $93 million into the 2020 election cycle, the vast majority of those funds going to Democrat candidates. The National Education Association led the way with north of $48 million in contributions, according to OpenSecrets.org.

“I make no apologies. I am a union man. Period,” Biden said at a 2020 campaign rally in Pittsburgh.

Big Labor is one of Biden’s biggest campaign backers.

Labor organizations contributed $27.5 million to his campaign and other groups that supported him, OpenSecrets reported in February 2021.  Former President Donald Trump, took in less than $360,000 from those with labor ties.

Wisconsin Spotlight  | Sept. 5, 2022

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