Over the past few days, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites have been gathering in Madison to protest Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip the public employees’ unions in Wisconsin of their right to collective bargaining. As public employees, we at NTEU Chapter 293 stand with these middle class public employees.
It is vital to understand clearly what is happening today in Wisconsin. The Governor’s bill is the latest battle in what is shaping up to be a full frontal assault across our nation against government employees’ unions and, by extension, against all middle class workers. This is not just an effort to extract reductions in the pay and benefits of teachers, nurses and other public employees in Wisconsin. It is a direct attempt to eliminate their rights to bargain at all. It is an effort to eviscerate their unions.
Indeed, Marty Beil, the Executive Director for the Wisconsin State Employees Union, has already told the Governor that the union is prepared to implement financial concessions, as long as their right to collective bargaining is not eliminated. The Governor rejected this offer. Stripping these public employees of their union rights is what this bill is all about.
A profound irony in this struggle is that Wisconsinites can proudly assert a strong claim to being the birthplace of the union struggle for the rights of middle class workers in the United States. It was in Wisconsin, after all, that seven workers were killed by the state militia in the 1886 Bay View Massacre, while protesting to establish the eight-hour work day. It was in Wisconsin that the nation’s first worker’s compensation law was passed early in the twentieth century. Wisconsin was the first state to establish unemployment insurance in 1932. It is where the largest public employees’ union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSME) was founded. It was also the first state to give collective bargaining rights to public employees in 1959. Other states soon followed, and in 1962 President Kennedy granted collective bargaining rights to federal employees like you.
Did you know that our own union, the National Treasury Employees Union, was originally founded by a group of IRS employees in the State of Wisconsin back in 1938?
The eight-hour work day. The forty-hour work week. The weekend. Unemployment insurance. Workers’ compensation. Health insurance. The prohibition against child labor. All of these rights, which today in large part define what it is to be a middle class citizen in America, were fought for and established by labor unions over the past century. All middle class workers benefit from the important work of unions, even if they are not members of a union themselves. And they continue to benefit from unions’ work today.
But today, there are those who believe that unions should be eliminated. And public employees’ unions, which represent over 35% of public employees in the state and federal governments across our nation, are a big target. This latest effort to strip the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsinites is an assault upon the rights of all public employees.
We proudly support the public employees of the State of Wisconsin.
We are all Wisconsinites.
NTEU Chapter 293 President Greg Gilman