News & Commentary

July 27, 2015

Dana Milbank writing for the Washington Post argued that presidential candidate and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is deceiving working people in his article “Why Scott Walker is so dangerous.”  Walker has ignominiously – for others, heroically – defeated many of the Wisconsin’s public sector unions and is describing his victory as a triumph over “big government interests” on the campaign trial.  Milbank describes Walker as “dangerous” because of the appeal of his overly-simple rhetoric: save the nation by fighting labor unions.

Yet, as Milbank notes, “unions represent just 11 percent of the U.S. workforce and have been at a low ebb.”  Moreover, the state-wide effects of his anti-union strategy have been underwhelming.  “[Hi]s big, bold reforms produced only about half the number of jobs he promised and resulted in delayed debt payments and deep cuts to education to overcome a budget deficit.” Now, as a presidential candidate, Walker has marshaled his union-busting rhetoric in support of supply-side economics and a tough-on-ISIS attitude.  But ultimately, Milbank argues, “[by] scapegoating toothless trade unions as powerful and malign interests, he enlists working people in his cause of aiding the rich and the strong.”

Politics aside, organized labor has been active this week.  The Washington Post reports that 39,000 Verizon workers in nine states are prepared to strike if a new union contract is not agreed upon by the end of the week.  The contract covers employees who work for Verizon’s fixed-line phone service and Fios Internet service.  Eighty-six percent of the workers, who are represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, voted to back the strike in a recent poll.  The current contract is set to expire at midnight this Saturday, August 1.

Mental health workers in Western Massachusetts are in the midst of a strike to end dismal wages and working conditions, according to the Boston Globe.  The workers have been in negotiations with a mental health and family support agency after the employee’s contract expired several months ago.  The union rejected the company’s proposals last week, which included an increase in pay and benefits of $1,500 per worker.  The union is demanding a hike of $4,000.  The employee’s union, Service Employees International Union Local 509, reports that the workers earn “near-poverty wages” and experience “severe workplace stress.”  Currently the agency’s employees, all of whom hold bachelor’s degrees, earn just $26,000 per year.  After attending various protests last week, many of the workers plan to return to work this week for their clients, but intend to strike again.

Finally, over 650 clerical, administrative, and paraprofessional workers at Northern Illinois University have petitioned the State of Illinois to organize under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, reports the Chicago Tribune.  The employees have complained that they have not received pay raises despite increasing work loads.  The Tribune reports that the union will likely become official in the coming weeks absent opposition from the University.

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