Thursday, June 7, 2012

What Wisconsin Means

Walker's defeat of the recall effort has been the subject of a number of op-eds, blog posts, and screeds today. Ezra Klein at WaPo's Wonkbook went so far as to write, "Wisconsin Recall Shows Labor Isn't Coming Back." And even more prematurely (but inevitably), some are talking of higher office for this creep.

Is Walker's victory a setback for labor? Absolutely. Is it the death knell of unions? Too soon to say.

Let me add that I have some ambivalence about unions, given that I am a member of a union that privileges seniority over competence, which has burdened my workplace with some serious dead wood and cost a good friend her job. On the other hand, without the protections unions afford, I honestly believe city government would have made all librarian positions half-time so they could weasel out of providing us health insurance. And the better wages and working conditions unions provide usually force some private employers to keep in step to stay competitive in hiring.

But back to Wisconsin: the vote shows nothing more than the unpopularity of union employees during recessions. If you're working two jobs just to pay your bills and you've got terrible insurance (if you have it at all), it's natural to resent somebody who can go home at five every day and who can get sick without becoming destitute. Furthermore, the pro-union forces were at a severe disadvantage in campaign finances (a shocker, no?), although the ubiquitous "outspent 7-1" seems to be debatable.Nevertheless, it's not a complete victory for Walker: the Democrats may re-take control of the Wisconsin Senate.

And while the failure of the Wisconsin recall has emboldened opponents of unions, the labor movement is still winning some victories. Last year the Ikea factory in Virginia unionized (think about that: Virginia). Also in Virginia a group of Eastern Shore chicken catchers who work for Tyson Foods have voted to unionize, after getting fed up with horrendous working conditions and making $40 a day.  Here in Boston workers at the Hilton Boston Downtown are joining the local hospitality workers union, and in Chicago the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will soon be negotiating wages and benefits for the registered nurses at Loretto Hospital.

And back in Wisconsin, Scott Walker shouldn't feel too smug: odds are he'll soon be facing criminal indictment.

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