Barton Blogs

Walker Demonstrates the Controversial Nature of Collective Bargaining Reform by Narrowly Avoiding Recall

This Tuesday, June 5th, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker narrowly dodged the efforts of the campaign seeking his recall. The campaign against Walker was a result of Walker’s recent controversial legislation which, in an attempt to rectify budget deficits, curtailed collective bargaining rights for most public employees under the Budget Repair Bill, 2011 Wisconsin Act (10). Under this bill, all employees of the Wisconsin Retirement System would be mandated to contribute significantly to their own pensions, public state employees would need to pay at least 12.6 percent of the cost of their health insurance premiums, and a wage cap would be set for workers which could not be negotiated through collective bargaining. This bill was unpopular among many of Wisconsin’s inhabitants, especially unionized workers. However, the majority of Wisconsin voters did not feel that Walker’s actions necessitated his removal from office.

As demonstrated by the response to Walker’s legislation, collective bargaining reform is a deeply dividing issue. On the one hand, many proponents of limiting collective bargaining believe that it is an effective way to balance state budgets. They argue that deficiencies of collective bargaining include increased bureaucratization, restrictions of management’s freedom and ability to make efficient and/ or unilateral decisions, polarization between employees and managers, the inhibition to promote innovative changes in policy, and the potential for greater compensation for those in the public sector over those in the private sector. On the other hand, opponents of limiting collective bargaining view this limitation as a violation of workers’ fundamental rights. They assert that collective bargaining promotes fair and consistent employment policies, results in higher employee satisfaction and performance, ensures both the rights of employees and employers are protected, and has the potential to provide fiscal benefits, as multiyear contracts help to provide predictability in salary and other compensation issues.

The division of voters on the issue of collective bargaining reform extends beyond Wisconsin. Other states such as Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio and Massachusetts are also seeking to restrict collective bargaining laws in the public sector in attempt to curtail state spending and rectify budget deficits. In all these states, collective bargaining legislation has been met with great opposition and has demonstrated that candidates’ views on collective bargaining have the potential to affect voting patterns (especially the votes of unionized works who want to retain their full rights to collective bargaining and taxpayers whose taxes will be directly affected by the success or failure of collective bargaining legislation). Public response to Walker’s and other similar bills reflects the magnitude and importance of collective bargaining reforms on the national as well as municipal level.

If you would like to know more about this posting, please contact Phil Mortensen of Barton LLP at pmortensen@bartonesq.com and/or refer to his essay “Risks of Restricting Collective Bargaining for Public Employees” in Aspatore Special Report: The Impact of Limiting Collective Bargaining Rights for additional information.