Republican lawmakers pushed through passage of the law earlier this month despite massive protests that drew up to 85,000 people to the state Capitol and a boycott by Democratic state senators. Opponents immediately filed a series of lawsuits that resulted in further chaos that might not end until the state Supreme Court weighs in.
That appeared even more likely after a hearing on Tuesday, when a Dane County judge again ordered the state to put the law on hold while she considers a broader challenge to its legality. She chastised state officials for ignoring her earlier order to halt the law's publication.
"Apparently that language was either misunderstood or ignored, but what I said was the further implementation of (the law) was enjoined," Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi said during a hearing. "That is what I now want to make crystal clear."
Sumi is set to hear additional arguments Friday on the larger question of whether GOP legislative leaders violated the state's open meetings law during debate on the measure. She also is considering Republican claims that the law technically took effect last weekend after a state agency unexpectedly published it online.
Whether she decides it did or didn't become law on Saturday, the measure's legitimacy will likely be decided by the state Supreme Court, which is already considering whether to take up an appeals court's request to hear the case.
The back and forth amplified the often angry debate between new Gov. Scott Walker, his Republican allies in the Legislature and the state's public sector unions.
Walker and the GOP have aggressively pushed forward their effort to remove the bargaining rights of state workers, using a surprise parliamentary maneuver to break a weeks-long stalemate to get it passed and then finding another route to publish the law after Sumi's order blocked the secretary of state from doing so.
State Department of Justice spokesman Steve Means said the agency continues to believe the law was properly published and is in effect.
Huffington Post, Tues Mar 29 2011
Byline: Todd Richmond
Union Fears Anti-Labour Tactics Coming to Canada: Energy giant with links to Tea Party movement registers to lobby Alberta government
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, is concerned about the wellbeing of the collective bargaining process in light of the fact that Koch Industries Inc., an influential U.S. conglomerate with links to the U.S. Tea Party movement, recently registered to lobby the Alberta government.
In addition, a think tank is calling for labour policies similar to those advocated by the notoriously anti-union Tea Party movement at a time when the Alberta government is currently at the bargaining table with some of the 27 unions within the AFL.
Marcel Latouche, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Sector Accountability, wrote in a recent op-ed that governments, burdened as they are by increasing debt, should look at the costs of union collective bargaining.
"To alleviate the tax burden, governments at all levels should look at the costs of union collective bargaining. In the U.S., after years of growing taxes, some governments are eyeing curtailing the collective agreement process," IPSA president and CEO Marcel Latouche wrote in an op-ed.
Union members are even more worried about Koch, which registered to lobby policymakers in the areas of "agriculture, economic development, energy, environment, finance, forestry, taxes," according to the provincial lobby registry.
The Kansas-based company has hired Canadian lobby firm Global Public Affairs and consultant David Keto, a former project manager with Alberta Finance. Keto was also executive assistant to cabinet minister David Coutts from 2001 to 2003.
Owned by Charles and David Koch, the company is the second largest in the U.S. and holds businesses in oil refining, the petrochemical industry, plastics production, and forestry, among others. Koch employs around 2,400 people in Canada, mostly in oil sands-related work.
Although Koch has denied claims that it helps fund the Tea Party movement, a lengthy report in The New Yorker last August said David Koch founded a Tea Party-related advocacy group called Americans for Prosperity which supports the movement financially and logistically.
The report said the Koch brothers have poured millions into "seemingly independent" political and policy organizations as well as into right-wing advocacy groups, political campaigns, and lobbyists in order to influence public policy.
A New York Times report cited state records showing that Koch Industries was one of the biggest contributors to the campaign to elect Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Amid a storm of protest, Walker, a Republican, brought in legislation to limit the collective bargaining rights of an estimated 300,000 public sector workers. A number of other states, including Michigan, Indiana, Florida, and Ohio, are planning similar anti-labour laws as they seek to patch huge holes in their budgets.
Koch states on its website that it never lobbied Walker, and says both the New Yorker and New York Times reports are biased and contain inaccuracies.
"We have repeatedly explained that neither Charles nor David Koch fund the Tea Parties. They are involved with and support an organization, which in turn has involvement with some Tea Party members," the website says.
Koch also says that many of its companies in the U.S. operate under collective bargaining agreements, and allegations that the corporation is anti-union are "a mischaracterization of our principles."
"Where unions exist, we respect their status, work with them in good faith, and honour the terms of our collective bargaining agreements. This has been true for more than 50 years."
As for registering to lobby the Alberta government, the company says they've been lobbying in Canada for years. The only change is that they've hired a new lobbyist.
McGowan, however, is not convinced. "We're going to be following them closely," he says. "From our perspective, the last thing we need in Canada is to import a U.S.-style approach to labour relations which has proven to be both destructive and divisive."
The good news, he adds, is that he heard from Premier Ed Stelmach in response to a letter he had written seeking assurance that the premier remains committed to honouring the collective bargaining process with the province's public sector employees.
"The premier has responded to the letter by saying that he sees no reason to change Alberta's approach to labour relations, and we find those comments encouraging," he says.
"But we are still worried about having people like the Koch brothers active in Alberta politics, because they have deep pockets and because they have proven to be such a corrosive influence in the United States."
The Epoch Times, Mon Mar 28 2011
Byline: Joan Delaney
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has already proven he doesn't care about the will of his constituents. Now, he thinks he's above the law.
In a late Friday move-so as to get little media attention-Walker defied a court ruling and published the bill killing collective bargaining rights for the public employees. A judge had issued a restraining order on the law, passed by state Assembly and Senate in a set of dirty-trick moves. The restraining order barred its publication, but apparently the rule of law doesn't apply to Walker.
The Wisconsin Law Journal reports that the Republican state senate leadership sees publication of the bill as enacting the law-in short, bypassing due process in the court system.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who said he went to the Reference Bureau with the idea, wasted no time in saying that the law's online publication meant it would take effect Saturday. His brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, agreed, according to a spokesman.
"It's my opinion it's published, it's on the legislative website, it's law," Scott Fitzgerald said. "It was clear to me after our discussions this morning, if it in fact it is posted and it says published and there's a specific date on it, it would be very hard to argue this was not law."
Not so, says Dane County Circuit Judge Sarah O'Brien, who refused to take up a request for emergency action made late Friday by the Democratic district attorney, Ismael Ozanne, saying there was no "critical urgency" in her addressing the posting because the temporary restraining order preserves the status quo. She said she didn't know what effect the online posting had, and that the issue could wait until a previously scheduled hearing Tuesday in one of the lawsuits challenging the law's legitimacy.
With residents now calling their state "FitzWalkerstan" because of the Fitzgeralds' close ties to Walker, seems to show again how dictatorships often start with Troikas.
Opposing Views, Mon Mar 28 2011
March 28 2011 Letter from ITUC to Prime Minister of Egypt protesting proposed decree on criminalizing strikes and sit-ins
Thousands rally for organized labor in Calif.: As other states push anti-union legislation, workers in L.A. vow to fight efforts aimed at "busting the middle class"
Between 5,000 and 8,000 people, led by a group of Teamsters and including nurses, electricians, teachers and longshoremen, marched in the afternoon protest that began at Staples Center and ended with a rally at Pershing Square, according to police estimates.
One of several rallies around the country, the downtown event had some uniquely Hollywood elements - rallying workers included unionized actors and screenwriters.
The marchers, many of whom were brought in by school bus from as far away as San Diego, carried signs reading "Stop the war on workers" and "We stand with Wisconsin workers."
Speakers including Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa, Maria Elena Durazo from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and Fire Fighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell roused the crowd at the rally, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Tom Morello, guitarist for the band Rage Against the Machine, performed.
Mahlon shouted at the rally that the battle in Wisconsin is a "direct attack" on all unions and the entire American middle class.
"An injury to one is an injury to all!" he shouted, and warned that similar policies could be instituted in cash-strapped California.
"This is more than just about union-busting, this is about busting the middle class, and this is about future elections as well," Mahlon told KCAL-TV after the speech.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill earlier this month stripping most public workers of collective bargaining rights, but it was facing legal challenges.
CBSnews.com, Sun Mar 27 2011
In two guest columns at the AFL-CIO, professors Joseph McCartin and Paul Clark say Walker's plan to eliminate collective bargaining is all about gaining power and that the American people see it for what it is.
McCartin, director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and associate professor of history at Georgetown University, told the AFL-CIO Executive Council earlier this month that local union leaders' actions exposed Walker's motives and that gives workers an opening to change the nation's perception of unions.
It is this realization [that Walker is after power] that has brought people into the streets, suddenly and spontaneously; this realization that has galvanized people in ways you could never have planned or foreseen.
According to a recent New York Times poll, more than 40 percent of respondents had neither a positive nor a negative view of unions. The size of that group, McCartin says, indicates public opinion is in flux.
Suddenly you have an opportunity to explain...why unions are necessary; why they are vital in a democracy; and to do it in a way that connects to people's realities. Walker has given you an opportunity to make a case that you haven't had an opportunity to make on the national stage in a while....You must seize this opportunity and make the most of it.
And the facts are on our side, says Clark, who heads the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Pennsylvania State University. He worked in a factory at age 18 and learned first hand the value of collective bargaining.
I had the worst job in the place and it was a tough way to make a living. But on breaks, the old-timers would tell us new hires how much better things were since the union had been voted in. They told me to hang in there and after six months or so I could probably bid for a better job. Without that option, I probably would have quit within a week!
He says workers can make the case for public employee collective bargaining by pointing out that collective bargaining raises compensation for public employees, increasing their standard of living. This enables public employers to compete in the labor market for higher quality workers and attract better employees who, in the past, would not have considered a career in government.
Public-sector bargaining is also an exercise in democracy, which is why virtually all democratic nations in the world embrace it, and why it is one of the first things that dictators suppress when they take power. Public-sector unions also regularly work in partnership with governments to improve services and cut operational costs.
Clark notes that one of the most important roles unions play is to act as a counterbalance to the power and influence of employers and other groups.
Most Americans believe strongly in the idea of checks and balances and understand that unchecked power, whether in a workplace or in politics, is a dangerous thing. While the influx of big money in politics may be lamentable, without unions one side of the political spectrum, the right, would basically own government.
The bottom line, Clark says,
is that Walker's efforts to dismantle the system of bargaining for public employees that has served the state well seems much more about what is best for Walker and his party then it is about what is best for Wisconsin. It appears to be a cynical exercise in political opportunism that will increase his party's political advantage and turn back the clock on Wisconsin's public-sector workforce by half a century.
AFL-CIO Now Blog, Sat Mar 26, 2011
Byline: James Parks
MEXICO/GLOBAL: The 50,000 workers, students and human and labour rights activists who took part in the February Global Days of Action are gearing up for another round of mass mobilizations to fight proposed labour legislation that further strips Mexican workers of the most basic internationally recognized labour rights.
News of the proposed regressive reforms comes just weeks after unions from more than 40 countries participated in an active week of massive rallies, marches and high-level government meetings to shine a light on the Mexican government's failure to uphold international commitments to respect basic labour rights and worker protections.
The proposed legislation which greatly undermines freedom of association, job security, and work conditions, fails to include any of the many changes to Mexican labour legislation that have been repeatedly called for by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations and more recently, by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association.
In Mexico, preparations at the national level are underway. Public events planned in Mexico this week include:
- rally on March 24 at 1 pm,
- forum on March 30 - debate regressive nature of reform and strategies for resistance and change,
- educational material development and strategic meetings are being held throughout the week.
To join the campaign, the IMF is urging affiliates to send letters to their local Mexican embassy or consulate or government representative, especially those individuals who took meetings with union groups during the February Global Days of Action. See IMF's letter here.
imfmetal.org, Fri Mar 25 2011
Embattled U.S. union leaders met here Thursday and cast themselves as the defenders of the middle class, vowing to fight Republican attacks on teachers and government workers.
"There's a new generation of ideologues -I don't even want to call them Republicans -out there who want to strip us of our voices," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.
"Our job is to take this moment and make an opportunity to re-energize the labour movement."
Republicans pushing to cut taxes, slash government services and undermine unions are pursuing an agenda that will benefit the rich and undermine the middle class, Weingarten said.
While many of these moves have proven unpopular with voters, Weingarten said Republicans are hoping the memory of current battles will fade by the time voters head to the polls in November 2012.
Unions cannot afford to let that happen, she told a conference organized in Detroit by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.
Seizing on major gains in November's mid-term elections and eyeing next year's presidential race, Republicans in 37 states are pushing legislation to restrict bargaining rights and the unions' ability to collect dues.
The move is aimed at knocking down the most effective Republican opponents in regions critical to President Barack Obama's re-election, said Donna Brazile, a Democratic political consultant and strategist.
And the demonizing rhetoric aimed at teachers and public sector workers who've been called "greedy" and "lazy" is aimed at distracting voters from the real source of budgetary constraints, she said.
"They are blaming the public sector unions instead of huge tax cuts for the rich and unbridled financial manipulation for the mess we're in," Brazile said.
"We're under attack like we've never been under attack before," UAW president Bob King told members. "We have to build a people power movement."
He said the UAW is reaching out to faith groups, environmentalist, civil rights and immigration rights organizations to help resist the budget cuts and anti-union legislation.
Calgary Herald, Fri Mar 25 2011
Think Progress reports today that "a group of House Republicans is launching a new stealth attack against union workers" by prohibiting the family of a worker on strike from receiving food stamps.
The stealth provision is buried in H.R. 1135, a bill based designed to "provide information on total spending on means-tested welfare programs, to provide additional work requirements, and to provide an overall spending limit on means-tested welfare programs."
Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Tim Scott (S.C.), Scott Garrett (N.J.), Dan Burton (Ind.), and Louie Gohmert (Texas) introduced the bill, which also includes a provision that would exempt households from losing eligibility, "if the household was eligible immediately prior to such strike, however, such family unit shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household."
As Think Progress notes:
With a record 42 million Americans on food stamps during these poor economic times, it appears that the right is simply looking for more ways to hurt working class Americans.
AFL-CIO Now Blog, Thurs Mar 24 2011
Byline: Tula Connell
Latouche suggests fat-cat trash collectors, hospital cleaning staff and school maintenance workers are bankrupting government, that their salaries and benefits are to blame for record-breaking budget deficits.
His logic would be laughable were it not so misleading.
First off, governments are in trouble because unbridled corporate greed caused a global recession.
Then they tried to kick-start the economy by rewarding some of the same corporations with massive bailouts and tax breaks.
Over the past decade, the Alberta government has given away billions to the energy industry in incentives and royalty breaks, more than enough to eliminate the deficit.
As for the notion the public sector has enjoyed large pay increases while the private sector has suffered, the Alberta government's own data shows that in the past few years, raises for employees in the health, education and public administration sectors have been on par - or behind - those in the mining and oil, construction and utilities sectors.
Blaming public sector unions for provincial deficits makes about as much sense as blaming oilfield workers for rising gas prices.
Latouche says the answer to the "problem" of public sector unions is "managed competition" - which is just code for privatization and contracting out government services.
Whenever advocates try to make the case for hiring private companies to deliver public services, they conveniently ignore the hidden costs to taxpayers.
These include time and money spent monitoring the contractor, administrative fees and additional charges for "extra" work.
In the U.S., the Government Finance Officers Association estimates that this can increase the real cost of a public service by up to 25%.
Latouche argues that by having private businesses bidding against each other, it will drive down the price because the "lowest or best price will get the contract."
The problem with this argument is that private companies are in business to make a profit - they will do everything they can to keep costs down, perhaps even cutting corners or taking advantage of poorly worded provisions in a contract.
The truth is, the only real way that private contractors can deliver a public service more cheaply is by paying lower wages.
Racing to the bottom that way will only hurt entire communities, especially smaller towns where public sector employees support local businesses.
Bashing public employees has become a popular tactic by people who want governments to cut taxes for the rich and slash services to the rest of us.
Contrary to what Latouche and his ilk would have you believe, public service workers are hard-working, contributing members of the middle class. They coach their kids' teams, mow their lawns and pay their taxes, just like everyone else.
Smear campaigns and attacks on their dignity and their contributions to society are not the answer to government's financial woes.
Albertans should let their politicians know, in no uncertain terms, that a U.S.-style class war is not welcome here.
Calgary Sun, Thurs Mar 24 2011
Byline: Guy Smith, President