As the race for governor draws closer, three of Wisconsin’s top public employee labor unions endorsed Democrat Mary Burke in her challenge against Gov. Scott Walker.
Shortly after the unions’ announcement, the Republican Party of Wisconsin pointed out the unions now endorsing the candidate, which include the Wisconsin Education Association Council, AFL-CIO and Madison Teachers Inc., have criticized Burke in the past.
Burke’s stance differed from the unions in their total opposition to Act 10, a controversial law Walker enacted that all but eliminated many unions’ collective bargaining powers. But the unions said Burke is the candidate that best represents unions members and that she supports collective bargaining.
Wisconsin AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale said Burke has made it clear she believes in the right for labor groups to bargain collectively for their interests.
“Burke has been very clear that she supports collective bargaining rights and she has said she will work to rework the parts of Act 10 that deal with workers having the ability to have a voice in the workplace through collective bargaining,” Bloomingdale said.
John Matthews, executive director of MTI, said following several meetings with union officials and the completion of an extensive survey regarding her positions on public sector labor relations, MTI decided Burke was their candidate of choice. Walker ignored invitations to meet and take the survey, he said.
Although Burke has not highlighted the issue of collective bargaining rights as a central focus of her campaign, Matthews said he understands this and said it should not be the focus of her campaign.
“She didn’t say she would make collective bargaining rights a cornerstone of her campaign, and I completely understand that,” Matthews said. “I would not make it a cornerstone of my campaign either, and the reason is the right wing has proven to be successful in convincing the general public that public employees have it better than private employees.”
The Republican Party of Wisconsin noted in a statement the sudden “change of heart” among labor groups in regards to Burke.
Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive, won a seat to the Madison School Board in 2012. In that race, Matthews’ union backed Burke’s opponents, and Matthews called Burke a “1-percenter” who could not relate to low-income students in a Wisconsin State Journal story, the state Republican Party pointed out.
Joe Fadness, executive director of the party, said the unions’ change of heart could mean Burke is making private deals with them regarding Act 10.
“Big labor bosses have opposed millionaire Mary Burke from the start, which can only mean that she is making backroom promises on Act 10 and leaving voters in the dark,” Fadness said in the statement. “Democrats are conceding their efforts by endorsing a candidate with a weak public stance on a signature issue.”
During the gubernatorial recall elections, many Wisconsin unions backed former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk in the Democratic primary, as she had pledged a full repeal of Act 10, unlike the eventual Democratic nominee, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost in 2010 and 2012 against Walker.