Monday, February 29, 2016

With Fewer Members, a Diminished Political Role for Wisconsin Unions - The New York Times

With Fewer Members, a Diminished Political Role for Wisconsin Unions - The New York Times:

With Fewer Members, a Diminished Political Role for Wisconsin Unions

MILWAUKEE — Gov. Scott Walker’s foray into the Republican presidential field ended months ago, but he may yet have sway over the outcome.
Mr. Walker led a push five years ago to cut collective bargaining rights for most public sector workers, saying he needed to solve a state budget gap. Since then, union membership has dropped precipitously. Long a labor stronghold, the state has lost tens of thousands of union members, leaving Wisconsin with a smaller percentage of union members than the national average, new federal figures show.
The drop is most pronounced in the public sector: More than half of Wisconsin’s public workers were in unions before Mr. Walker’s cuts took effect. A little more than a quarter of them remain.
The shift has shaken the order of election-year politics. Democrats, who most often have been the beneficiaries of money and ground-level help from the unions, said they were uncertain about what the coming elections would look like, and what forces could take the place of depleted labor groups.
The change is certain to affect the Democratic presidential nominee in November. But Democratic political consultants are more concerned about the fate of state legislative contests, in which phone banks and extra door knocks have proved pivotal here in the past and which are seen as especially important if labor leaders hope to fend off the passage of more anti-union legislation.
“Maybe we can win high-profile races because Wisconsin still leans slightly Democratic, but at the level where Walker has produced the most profound change, it may prove very difficult to turn that around,” Paul Maslin, a longtime Democratic pollster in Madison, said. “That’s where we pay the price.”
Presidential races automatically draw large numbers of voters, often receive support from national labor groups and have seen the Democrat win Wisconsin every time since 1988. But other elections are looming, including an April contest for a seat on the sharply polarized Wisconsin Supreme Court and a highly anticipated fall rematch between Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican, and Russ Feingold, his Democratic predecessor.
Top union leaders insist that labor remains a powerful election force.
“The people who have stayed have been much more politically active,” said Rick Badger, the executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Wisconsin, which last year condensed three thinning union locals into a single organization.
Phil Neuenfeldt, the president of the Wisconsin State A.F.L.-C.I.O., said, “We have been — and we will be — a big part of the election outcome.”
Yet declining membership, resources and money are creating an uncertain With Fewer Members, a Diminished Political Role for Wisconsin Unions - The New York Times:

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