This article was first published at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Thursday, September 19th, 2013:
Under Wisconsin’s Act 10, every union must be re-certified by its members each year – a freedom denied its members in the past. Once certified, a union was formerly permanent. With regard to teachers, it required dues to be deducted from their paychecks, it demanded negotiating rights on their behalf, it mandated where they could buy their health insurance, and so on.
But when the teachers themselves were asked if they wanted to stick with their union, they said no – resoundingly.
On August 31st, the Kenosha (Wisconsin) Education Association (KEA), the state’s largest teachers union, was officially decertified, thanks to the teachers themselves, who voted 63-37 to get rid of it. Vincent Vernuccio, a director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, put it succinctly: “The teachers simply did not see the value in the representation the union was offering.” A state representative who voted for Act 10 confirmed it: “People have seen that they don’t need the union.”
Now that the union has been decertified, it can no longer represent Kenosha teachers in wage negotiations and it can no longer demand the automatic deduction of union dues from teachers’ paychecks.
And it’s not just in Kenosha where teachers are learning to live and breathe freely once again. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) just reported that its Wisconsin membership has dropped from 62,818 in 2011 to just 28,745 in 2012, forcing the organization itself to shrink by laying off employees and cutting benefits. Prior to Act 10, the AFSCME lived high on the hog. It employed 151 people and paid them more than $14 million a year, averaging just under $100,000 a year each. It is now laying off about 60 people, with more expected as revenues continue to drop.
Act 10 has changed the landscape in Wisconsin. This was the bill, remember, where 14 pro-union Democrats in the state senate fled the state to keep the Republicans from being able to vote on it because it was a fiscal bill. With only 19 members present, the bill was stalled until someone did a “workaround” by removing some of the fiscal language and allowing the bill to move forward. When the vote was tallied, it passed the senate 18-1, and in the assembly by 51-17. The day after the senate vote, all 14 Democrats returned.
There were legal challenges, of course. Pro-union judges said the law was unconstitutional, but those decisions were reversed on appeal. And now the benefits of being able, finally, to bid out for various services instead of being forced by the union to use their own contractors, are showing up in surpluses around the state. In Kaukauna, school officials are estimating that they will save enough to turn a $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus. Translation: class sizes are being reduced, teachers can spend more one-on-one time with particular students, and merit pay programs can be implemented.
How the unions manipulated their advantage was illustrated by the requirement, prior to Act 10, that the Kaukauna school district purchase health insurance coverage from its own entity, called the WEA Trust. Now that the district is free to shop around, the WEA Trust, which had just announced a significant premium increase, changed its tune and announced that it will match any other insurer’s low bid.
Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, said that the impact of Act 10 is huge:
Act 10 has changed everything here in Wisconsin. The fact that teachers, in what was one of the largest and most partisan local unions in the state, would voluntarily choose not to join the union, is astounding.
Act 10 gave these hard-working men and women the freedom to choose, and they are telling big labor just exactly how they feel about force-participation and the unions’ boorish behavior.
There is no doubt that other states are watching Wisconsin with great interest, especially those states running deficits partly because of excessive union demands and rules. Unions are being seen for what they really are: bullies. Their so-called “successes” are based on bluster, force, and intimidation.
Expect to see more Act 10s around the country.
The Business Journal: Wisconsin Act 10 upheld in another federal court challenge
The Business Journal: Wisconsin law curtailing collective bargaining upheld on appeal
The MacIver Institute: UPDATE: Wisconsin’s Third Largest Teachers Union Decertified on August 31st