Picking the New Secretary of Labor: A Backgrounder on Scott Walker

Published November 16th, 2016 -  - 11.16.1612


This post is part of a series on the candidates we understand to be under consideration for Secretary of Labor.

Scott Walker, the current governor of Wisconsin, is perhaps best known for his vehemently anti-union policies. Walker was first elected governor in 2010, survived a recall election in 2012, and was re-elected governor in 2014. In July 2015, Walker announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential race, but withdrew just two months later. In 2011, Walker proposed and signed into law Wisconsin Act 10 (also known as the “Scott Walker Budget Repair Bill”), which stripped most Wisconsin public sector employees of their collective bargaining rights. In 2015, Walker pushed for and signed into law Wisconsin Act 1, a right-to-work bill that made Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state in the country.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Walker will take over this week as the chair of the Republican Governors Association.

2011 Wisconsin Act 10

Wisconsin Act 10 is Walker’s “signature piece of legislation.” It prohibits all public sector employee unions – with the exception of the police and firefighters – from bargaining over health coverage, pensions, hours, workload, and safety. The only issue left to negotiate is wages, but the act also mandates that pay increases not exceed inflation. In addition, the act increases healthcare and pension costs for workers, bars any requirement that government workers pay union fees, and forbids government agencies from collecting employee dues on a union’s behalf. Finally, the act requires any public sector union that engages in bargaining to “win” an election every year – and by “win,” the union must gain not merely a majority of all those who vote, but a majority of all workers in the bargaining unit.

As Jake Rosenfeld has previously described, “Scott Walker’s signature effort to cripple public sector unions represents Friedrichs on steroids – a piece of legislation that not only takes away unions’ ability to collect fair share fees but also restricts most government unions – all except those that represent police officers and firefighters – from doing many core union functions.” At least one commentator has observed that the 2011 law may have helped pave the way for a Trump victory: by crushing public-sector unions, Walker “deprived Democrats of a key source of financial and political strength.”

2015 Wisconsin Act 1 (“Right to Work”)

In 2015, Walker signed into law new restrictions on labor organizing, making Wisconsin the nation’s 25thright-to-work” state. The bill prevents private sector unions from requiring non-union workers to pay the equivalent of dues, known as “fair share” payments. As the Journal-Sentinel noted at the time, the passage of the right-to-work act “marked a shift in Walker’s position that [came] as he pursue[d] an all but certain presidential run.” During the fight over Act 10, Walker had repeatedly stated that he “would not let legislation affecting private-sector unions reach his desk.”

2016 Presidential Campaign

On July 13, 2015, Walker announced his bid for the presidency. Although the campaign was short-lived – on September 21, 2015, Walker suspended his campaign due to low polling numbers – the two short months witnessed promises of drastic anti-union proposals. At the time, Walker called for making it illegal for federal employees to join unions; extending right-to-work policies nationwide; and eliminating the NLRB. As the New York Times reported in September, “Mr. Walker’s proposals for what he would do as president amount to the most sweeping curtailment of organized labor since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act during the Great Depression.”

Conclusion

Under Scott Walker’s governorship, union membership in Wisconsin has dropped significantly. In 2010, 14.2 percent of wage and salary workers in Wisconsin belonged to a union; in 2015, that number stood at just 8.3 percent. According to Politico, Walker as Secretary of Labor would be “labor unions’ worst nightmare.”

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