MADISON, WIS — CSEA cameras continue to roll as Susan McMurray, the only remaining lobbyist on staff at AFSCME Council 32, pauses to wipe tears from her eyes.
She recounts how Act 10, a devastating piece of legislation implemented by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, gutted unions across the state in 2011. Since the bill’s implementation, she has said goodbye to 75 percent of her co-workers and the vast majority of the union’s members.
The Act 10 bill, which was clearly a direct attack on the labor movement, erased the rights for workers in the state of Wisconsin to collectively bargain.
“What I would tell my brothers and sisters in New York state is not to take your bargaining laws for granted, and not to take your political support for granted,” McMurray solemnly urged. “We are the living, breathing example of that.”
In the wake of Act 10, public sector workers suffered devastating losses as their unions were stripped of their bargaining power. The state forced workers to start contributing 6 percent of their income to their pension plans, and an additional 12 percent of their income to a newly-implemented health insurance plan with higher deductibles. Wages are capped by a formula that frequently sets the ceiling at only a few tenths of a percent per year.
The average public sector worker was, almost overnight, bringing home an average of $700 less per month in his or her paycheck — a burden that most working families can hardly bear. As public-sector employed families struggled to make ends meet, more and more left their once-secure careers in search for new private sector jobs, causing overtime to skyrocket among those who remained.
One of those workers who remained is AFSCME Local 555 President Terry Magnant, who is a certified nursing assistant 2 at a state-run veterans home. With so much turnover in her department, she is forced to often work two or three 16-hour shifts a week.
She breaks down in front of the camera, defeated, “I am just so tired.” Yet, she stays because she believes in her life’s work — caring for those who have served our country.
Her friend and AFSCME Local 1954 President Annie Wacker speaks up, her voice also cracking. “This is what happens when you have an Act 10. It decimates not only the employees (members), but your communities as well. For me, Act 10 [was an attack on]my own morality and what I believed in about being a public employee, a public servant — that it’s about giving back to the community that supported me. And we’re not able to do that anymore.”
It can happen anywhere
It’s important to note that Wisconsin was the birthplace of AFSCME in 1932. With a similar story to CSEA’s own humble beginnings, AFSCME grew into the large international federation it is today by uniting fellow public sector unions throughout the country, including CSEA in 1978. Almost no one in Wisconsin would have believed the birthplace of AFSCME would become such a labor tragedy.
Yet, all it took was a single election and swift legislative action, and the rug was pulled out from beneath the Wisconsin labor movement.
When the news of Act 10 first broke, more than 100,000 enraged workers marched on the state Capitol in Madison, camping out for weeks around the building. Joining the workers at the statehouse were supporters from across the country, including CSEA Acting President Mary E. Sullivan and former Statewide Treasurer Joe McMullen.
Unfortunately, by then, the damage had already been done. Once the crowds slowly dwindled down, the implementation of the bill began.
Our bargaining rights are protected by the state Constitution
In New York, on Nov. 7, the choice of whether to hold a state constitutional convention will appear on the ballot.
If a convention is held, it would allow any part of the constitution to be reviewed and rewritten by a team of delegates elected from throughout the state. Those changes would then be voted on by the public in future ballots.
The state constitution preserves not only the protections in place for public sector pensions, but also workers’ rights to collectively bargain — putting our own bargaining rights at great risk.
We strongly urge you to vote ‘no’ to holding a convention, and encourage your families, friends and co-workers to do the same.
Wacker imparted a final plea for the camera. “If you’re a public employee, and you care about your co-workers, and you care about the community which you live in, you will become involved, and you will educate yourself, and you will fight like hell. You will fight like hell to prevent this from happening in your own community.”
— Emily Cote
What is Wisconsin’s Act 10?
In early 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed legislation to address that state’s $3.6 billion budget deficit.
Also dubbed as the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill,” the legislation actually devastated public employees’ collective bargaining rights, wages, health care, pensions and more.
Walker had run for governor in 2010 on an anti-worker platform.
Once a strong union state, Act 10 gutted the workers’ collective bargaining rights on nearly everything but wages. Family child care workers, home health care employees and University of Wisconsin academic and health care facility staff were no longer allowed to collectively bargain.
Additionally, public sector unions must win certification from a majority of employees in the bargaining unit every year. Public employees were no longer required to pay union dues, nor could the employer collect dues on behalf of the union.
Despite numerous protests at the state capitol in Madison by Wisconsin public employees and supporters from across the country, Walker signed the bill into law later that year.
Act 10 also paved the way for right-to-work legislation to be enacted in Wisconsin in 2014.