If enacted, the proposed legislation will have grave repercussions for all workers and citizens in Wisconsin and well beyond the state if attempted elsewhere. This represents more than a removal of collective bargaining rights from public sector workers. It would destroy a social contract that has stood the test of time. If the citizens of Wisconsin view this as a model for how an employer can act, then all workers in the state, private as well as public, unionized and non-unionized, are in peril.
Under the proposed legislation, all working conditions, health and safety and worker's compensation provisions, leave entitlements, seniority rules, equality provisions, grievance procedures, representation rights, pensions and benefits would no longer be negotiated. Real salary increases would have to be put to a referendum.
The legislation would also require union members to hold annual votes on whether to remain in the union, make the payment of union dues voluntary and increase worker contributions to state pension plans. In addition, the legislation proposes to cut benefits to Medicaid for all retirees and other beneficiaries of public health care, and to sell key public utilities.
On behalf of the 3.2 million unionized workers in Canada, the CLC deplores this effort to end free collective bargaining in a jurisdiction that was the cradle of public sector bargaining in the United States. The CLC is appalled at this effort to discredit public sector workers and blame our U.S. brothers and sisters for the fiscal pressures faced by all levels of governments. This is not only immoral, but is contrary to U.S. commitments to international law and to the International Labour Organization.
It was not public sector workers and their collective agreements that caused the fiscal deficit faced by Wisconsin. The state's fiscal crisis has its roots in the financial crisis and resulting economic devastation that the United States has not yet recovered from. Only a few weeks ago, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded that the economic crisis was caused by failures in government regulation, corporate mismanagement and irresponsible risk-taking in the financial sector. The Commission concluded that the financial crisis was completely avoidable.
Wisconsin's fiscal troubles will not be solved by stripping public sector workers of their rights. The legislation is, however, designed to weaken unions over the long term. Despite massive opposition to this draconian legislation, Republican legislators intend to pursue their course, and Ohio and other U.S. states are considering similar action. This assault on long accepted collective agreements would be disastrous for all workers and for citizens, who depend on quality public services.
The Canadian Labour Congress stands in solidarity with its brothers and sisters in the United States as they work to defeat this alarming legislative initiative.