Governor Walker has claimed since the beginning of his term that he’s not interested in reducing the power of private unions in Wisconsin; his only concern, he said, was with the budgetary impact that collective bargaining agreements with public unions had. Now there’s a video – raw footage from Brad Lichtenstein’s documentary to be entitled “As Goes Janesville” – that seems to prove that his true intention has always been to just start with public-sector unions as a first step towards weakening private-sector unions as well. As reported by JSOnline, where you can view the video for yourself-
In the video, [Beloit billionaire Diane] Hendricks told Walker she wanted to discuss “controversial” subjects away from reporters, asking him:
“Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions -”
“Oh, yeah,” Walker broke in.
“- and become a right-to-work?” Hendricks continued. “What can we do to help you?”
“Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill,” Walker said. “The first step is we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”
The entire conversation was not released Thursday with a video trailer of the documentary, but Journal Sentinel reporters were allowed to view the raw footage.
“So for us,” the governor continues, “the base we get for that is the fact that we’ve got – budgetarily we can’t afford not to. If we have collective bargaining agreements in place, there’s no way not only the state but local governments can balance things out. . . . That opens the door once we do that. That’s your bigger problem right there.”
Walker co-sponsored right-to-work legislation in 1993 as a freshman in the state Assembly, but as governor has consistently downplayed seeking any restrictions on private unions in public statements.
“This is another colossal bait and switch that goes directly to his honesty,” [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Barrett said. “What he claims he is not in favor of publicly, to the person who has made the largest contribution in state history, he says exactly the opposite. You can’t trust him.”
Barrett has been hammering Walker on right-to-work legislation for weeks, frequently using the phrase “divide and conquer.” Barrett said he used that term because he believed that was Walker’s strategy, but did not know until Thursday that Walker himself had used it.
In the 2010 campaign, Walker won the support of Operating Engineers Local 139, a union that represents about 9,000 heavy equipment operators in Wisconsin. The union is not endorsing anyone in this year’s recall election.
Terry McGowan, the union’s business manager, said the union gave its 2010 endorsement only after getting assurances Walker would not pursue right-to-work legislation. The union backed Walker because of his support for road building done by the group’s members, McGowan said.
He said Thursday he was troubled by the footage of Walker with Hendricks, but that he was continuing to take Walker at his word given his public statements and conversations he has had with him. “You don’t hear him say, ‘Yes, I’m going to go after right-to-work legislation,’ ” McGowan said of the video. But he added that divide and conquer is a phrase that is anathema to those in the labor movement. “It means turning worker against worker,” he said.
Because Walker faces a recall, a quirk in state law allowed supporters such as Hendricks for a time to donate unlimited sums to the governor’s campaign for certain expenses. Last month, Hendricks contributed $500,000 to Walker, bringing her total donations to him to $519,100 and the donations by her and [her husband] Ken to all candidates to more than $1 million.
Of course, it’s really no surprise that Walker, like the rest of the GOP, is ultimately after all of organized labor. But it’s nice to catch a politician telling the truth, even if only to a billionaire donor.
By the way, I’m not dogmatic about the benefits of unionization. It’s an empirical question whether workers are economically better off with or without unions, and I’ve seen apparently strong, statistical arguments on both sides. At the very least, it seems that if unions are to be economically relevant in the future, they need to focus on training and re-training, partnering with new technology rather than hedging against it.
Quite apart from the economic question, there is the dignity issue: the right of workers to organize for the purpose of negotiating with their managers seems as important to a free society as the right of citizens to peaceably assemble or petition their government for redress of grievances. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur or a professional. Especially in jobs where workers are easily replaced, it seems that only well-run unions can insure that workers have a meaningful voice in the enterprises to which they devote their lives.