Voters in Wisconsin appear to have returned control of the state senate to a labor-friendly majority, even though anti-union Gov. Scott Walker, anti-union Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three political extremist state senate candidates gained a victory in a recall election.
The change in the balance of power in the state senate — the result of a fourth senate seat in this recall election being returned to labor-friendly Democrats – sends a strong message in Wisconsin and elsewhere that organized labor can overcome the political spending advantage of corporations and wealthy conservatives by turning out the numbers at the ballot box. It was the state senate last year that gave final passage to a Walker-Kleefisch backed bill curtailing collective bargaining rights for public employees and otherwise attempting to weaken organized labor.
With Democrats back in control of the Wisconsin senate, they now can block further attempts at anti-labor legislation advanced by Walker should he call a special session of the legislature. Republicans still control the state assembly, but Democrats now have the senate advantage for the first time since Walker took office in January 2011, when he began his crusade against labor unions.
The retaking of the Wisconsin senate (by a very close margin after news reports as late as 3 a.m. reported that political conservatives had held the state senate) is only one of the positives to emerge from Wisconsin.
* Union brothers and sisters across Wisconsin forced the recall election by obtaining almost one million registered voter signatures – a showing of widespread solidarity and a nationally recognized demonstration of the ability of organized labor to deliver large numbers of energized voters who oppose legislative attacks on labor unions. UTU National Legislative Director James Stem called the Wisconsin efforts a “dress rehearsal for congressional and state elections in November, identifying strengths we will build on to increase the labor-friendly majority in the Wisconsin legislature and install more labor-friendly lawmakers in Congress and other state legislatures.”
* Tuesday’s retaking of the senate in Wisconsin follows last August’s successful unseating of two anti-union state senators in an earlier recall election, where a third conservantive senator resigned rather than face a recall election.
* Wisconsin voters will have another opportunity to send a strong political message in November, when half of the Wisconsin state senate seats and all state assembly seats are up for election.
* A state court in March invalidated portions of the Wisconsin law — one provision requiring annual recertification of a union, and another denying workers the right to have union dues withheld from their paychecks. Both were found in violation of constitutional free speech rights.
* In Ohio last year, after organized labor-led efforts obtained 1.3 million signatures to force a referendum on a state law curtailing collective bargaining rights, voters struck down that law by nearly a two-to-one margin — a significant blow to Ohio’s conservative legislative majority.
* The UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund was instrumental in so many ways — helping to obtain the nearly one million petition signatures in Wisconsin to force the recall election, assisting in delivering the votes that changed the balance of power in the state senate Tuesday, in successfully unseating the three Wisconsin political extremists last August, and in helping to obtain the 1.3 million petition signatures in Ohio that put that state’s anti-collective bargaining law on the ballot, where it was defeated.
* The UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund also helped organize large rallies in numerous states drawing attention to the attack on working families by political extremists in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere.
UTU International President Mike Futhey praised the efforts of UTU and Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) members who, on their own time, attended rallies, helped obtain signatures for the recall petition in Wisconsin and the referendum petition in Ohio, and who went door-to-door in both states explaining the issues to voters and urging union-friendly votes.
Futhey recognized the leadership efforts in Wisconsin of Stem, Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch, UTU political consultant Dean Mitchell, now retired Wisconsin State Legislative Director Tim Deneen and his successor, Craig Peachy, as well as Assistant Wisconsin State Legislative Director Jeff Thompson and Chris Tassone, secretary of the Wisconsin State Legislative Board.
Futhey also praised the work of UTU local officers in Wisconsin who reached out to members encouraging that they and their family members register to vote and vote in the recall election.
Stem said, “All of organized labor has benefited from this experience – especially the new levels of communication that have been developed. The struggle of workers for improved wages, benefits, job security and working conditions continues.”
As to “new levels of communication,” Stem noted:
* In recent months, more than 22,000 Wisconsin UTU members and retirees received a minimum of 15 unique contacts via direct mail, recorded phone calls and letters. The recorded phone calls were made by Futhey, Stem, Deneen, Peachy and Thompson, reaching almost 1,200 UTU households. The SMWIA also reached out to its members across Wisconsin.
* 37 percent of the UTU membership in Wisconsin signed the petition seeking the recall election.
* UTU Minnesota State Legislative Director Phil Qualy and UTU Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy reached out to members of Minnesota and Illinois locals who live and vote in Wisconsin.
“We will redouble our efforts in November in support of labor-friendly candidates seeking state legislative and congressional seats,” Futhey said. “The UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund, the UTU PAC and the SMWIA political action fund will play key roles in those efforts, as will our brothers and sisters throughout the labor movement.”