As the one-year anniversary of the passage of the bill repealing most collective bargaining rights for public unions approaches, Democratic legislators are seeking to do away with the contentious law.
At a press conference Thursday, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, introduced the Collective Bargaining Restoration Act, which would create provisions in the state statutes dealing with how unions are certified and the collection of union dues, as well as re-establishing the ability of public unions to collectively bargain.
The bill would repeal the collective bargaining legislation, originally part of the budget repair bill, passed by the Republican legislature last year and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker.
In 1959, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to implement collective bargaining for public employees, a task Risser helped accomplish.
“Back then Wisconsin was known as a progressive, innovative state,” Risser said. “Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature in less than five weeks undid 50 years of labor, collective bargaining and peace.”
Although Wisconsin saw a slight jump in job growth this month, the state experienced an overall loss of jobs and increase in retirements for state and local government positions during 2011, Pocan said. He said these downfalls could be attributed to the labor unrest caused by the passage of Republican legislation last year.
Individuals from various public and private sector union organizations also spoke at the conference about how the budget repair bill has affected them. Sheila Ellis from the Department of Health Services called the bill an “assault on the workers of Wisconsin.” Still, she stressed the importance of creating a unified state.
“We’re here to discuss, we’re here to sit together and to work together to make this state better,” Ellis said.
Concern for the quality of education in the state is a high priority for Sara Bringman, a retired middle school special education teacher who spent more than 30 years in Madison schools.
Bringman said loss of collective bargaining rights, pay cuts and loss of six percent toward retirement has decreased morale among teachers.
“We’re killing public education, not only in Wisconsin but across the country,” Bringman said. “We need to get our collective bargaining rights back, so our teachers and assistants and security people can concentrate on the education of our kids.”
Along with education, Walker’s budget repair bill is affecting public safety and other services funded by taxpayer dollars, Pocan said.
He said he feels it is important for the state to maintain a high level of quality when it comes to these programs.
The Collective Bargaining Restoration Act was unsuccessful in an earlier attempt to pass through the Senate, Risser said.
Whether the bill would pass in a Republican-controlled Legislature remains uncertain.
Andrew Welhouse, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Fitzgerald stands by the reforms and the actions of the Legislature last year.
Risser and Pocan said they hope this summer’s recall election will encourage support for the bill and correct the political divide they say Walker has created.
“We are going to change this law; there is absolutely no question in my mind Wisconsin will restore collective bargaining,” Pocan said. “It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.”