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MEMBER DIARY

What is it like to be a member of a public sector union?

I am a member of a public sector union.  It is not a particularly strident union.  In fact, if anything, it is rather laid-back.  You do not HAVE to be a member of the union to work where I do, but, it is made very clear to you that it is a very good idea for you to be a member.  They are going to take money out of your check anyway as a “fee” to represent you in labor negotiations whether you like it or not. So you might as well be a member so at least you can vote in the elections.  The elections tend to be virtually decided before they are held, not because they are corrupt, but because it is so difficult to find anyone to run for the offices.  To be honest, being an officer in a public sector union is a lot of work, and very few people appreciate how much effort goes into these leadership positions.

In the last election the union gave 100 % support to the Democratic ticket in the state.  Not a single Republican was supported by the union.  I asked the president of the union why at least one Republican was not supported, one that was, perhaps, running unopposed, so, at least, there could be a fig leaf of nonpartisanship, and she looked at me sweetly and changed the subject.  So a portion of my dues went to support political candidates I am absolutely certain I did not support and there was little I could do about it.  Trust me,  I knew better than to make a fuss.  Is it intimidation?  Not exactly.  The Republican Party in the state I live in is on life support, at best, anyway, so it really does not matter.  But if I ever ran for office on the Republican ticket, and it is almost certain that I would not win as the state is overwhelmingly Democratic, my dues money would be used against me.

The fact is that public sector unions have won an amazing number of concessions from state governments over the past 30 to 40 years.  They have done this through the cooperation and support of the Democratic Party and have become, as a result, major supporters of the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party has become a major supporter of the public sector unions.  It is a mutual back-scratching society.

The Democratic Party depends on the public sector unions for money and the ground-game during elections to get out the vote.  That is why the national organization of the Democratic Party is so interested in what is going on in Wisconsin.  They have to protect their ally for the 2012 election. If Wisconsin falls and the unions have to be re-certified on an annual basis, as is proposed in the Wisconsin state budget,  then they will not be able to provide the support to the Democratic Party that the party is going to need in 2012.  Union re-certification elections are expensive and time consuming and if the unions are busy with re-certification elections in 2012 they will not have the time or the money to help Democratic candidates in the election.  This plan to annually re-certify public sector unions strikes at the heart of the Democratic Party’s base, and they know it.

A Republican politician once said, “Public sector unions are my natural enemy.”  And so they have become.  There exists a split between unionized public sector employees/the Democratic Party vs. the Republican Party/the taxpayer.  During normal times not very much is made of this because most taxpayers are too busy living their lives, raising their children, and paying their bills.  But these are not normal times.  While economists may have declared the recession to be over in 2009, for most people, especially in states like Wisconsin, it is far from over.  They have taken pay cuts, benefit cuts, been laid-off, RIFED, downsized, rightsized, outsourced and off-shored.  They want to know why public sector employees have not had to tighten their belts too.

So the contest for 2012 has already been joined in Wisconsin and is likely to be joined in other states like Ohio and even in Democratic New York.  The fact is, there is no money.  The cuts must me made.  The unions are on the run and with them an important Democratic power-base.  How far this is likely to go and how successful Republicans will be in in 2012 may be decided in the what many have often called “The People’s Republic of Madison,” Wisconsin.

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