How Wisconsin’s Public Sector Workers Were Attacked By Their Governor

By: Jean-baptiste Rudatsikira

On November 2,2010, Scott Walker was elected fairly by Wisconsinites to be their next Governor.[i]  A little more than 7 months ago on March 10, 2011, Governor Walker and both chambers of the State’s legislature succeeded in passing legislation which severely restricted longstanding public sector collective bargaining rights[ii] that a strong majority of Americans considered an unfair attack on unions. [iii]  

Governor Walker did not campaign on balancing the State’s budget by restricting public unions. However, his budget repair bill included a proposal, supported by the majority Republican legislators, which severely limited collective bargaining in the State of Wisconsin. The law was destined to easily pass with strong Republican majority in both chambers, but for a dozen senate Democrats who left the State in order prevent the required quorum for the vote.[iv]

It should be noted that not all conservative Governors fully supported Governor Walker’s decision to dislodge collective bargaining rights of public sector workers. As recent as March 13, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana refused to attempt to remove the collective bargaining rights of public workers in Indiana because he did not campaign on the issue.[v]  Ideologically similar to Governor Walker, Governor Daniels believes that public sector unions should be decertified, but unlike his counterpart in Wisconsin, he stressed that such controversial measure should not be passed without the public weighting in on the debate during the general election.  David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, argues there is a legitimate debate on whether public sector workers should be permitted to have collective bargaining due to potential conflicts of interest.[vi]  Yet, there appears to be no legitimate reason to remove the hard fought rights of public sector workers when they have already agreed to financial concessions.

During the heated debate after the introduction of the budget repair bill, Ian Murphy, an editor of the online news website Buffalo Beast, called Governor Walker pretending to be billionaire conservative, David Koch.[vii] The recorded conversation revealed, among other things, that Governor Walker aimed to decertify public sector unions using the budget bill and considered infiltrating protesters with “trouble makers.”  However, contrary to Mr. Murphy’s recordings,, Governor Walker has repeatedly claimed his only motivation in rolling back union rights was to balance the budget.

On March 10th, Governor Walker passed the budget repair bill by working with the state legislature to use a “maneuver” which plucked out the financial parts of the bill in order to eliminate the statutory requirement for a quorum.[viii]  Imagine a bill intended to fix a state budget passing without financial numbers?  The trick worked, leading to the passage of the bill which was swiftly signed into law by the Governor.[ix]

To the surprise of many, governor Walker’s signature did not end the saga. On March 18th, a state judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the publication of the law because of allegations the legislature ignored an “Open Government” law that requires 24-hour notice of a conference meeting.[x] Consequently, the law was voided by Judge Maryann Sumi of Dane County Circuit Court[xi] before eventually being validated by Wisconsin’s Supreme Court in a 4-3 opinion which contained a “blistering” dissent[xii].

Governor Walker’s actions, along with the legislative processed utilized to pass the bill eliminating long standing collective bargaining rights, proves the need for politicians to clearly articulate their aims on controversial issues during the campaign.  In this case, their intentions were not merely to balance the budget, but to perpetrate an ideological attack on Wisconsin’s unionized public sector workers. Voters cannot be expected to be wary of who they are electing if candidates do not reveal their true intentions during the campaign. Both parties should, and must, learn to work together, not simply aim to push controversial political agendas on their constituents.


[i] Alicia Yager, Scott Walker: the next governor, The Badger Herald (November 3, 2010 2:49 am), http://badgerherald.com/news/2010/11/03/scott_walker_the_nex.php

[ii] Stephanie Condon, Wisconsin anti-union bill passes, heads to governor’s desk, CBS News Political Hotsheet (March 10, 2011 6:10 pm), http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20041840-503544.html.

[iii] Michael Cooper, Majority in Poll Back Employees in Public Sector Unions, N.Y. Times, March 1, 2011, at A1, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/us/01poll.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=poll%20unions&st=cse.

[iv] Monica Davey, Wiscosin Bill in Limbo as G.O.P. Seeks Quorum, N.Y. Times, February 19, 2011, at A14, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/us/19wisconsin.html.

[v] See interview by Chuck Todd with Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana, on Meet The Press (March 13, 2011), available at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42035928/ns/meet_the_press-transcripts/.

[vi] See David Brooks, Make Everybody Hurt, N.Y. Times, February 21, 2011, at A25, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/opinion/22brooks.html?_r=1&scp=6&sq=Governer%20Walker&st=cse.

[vii] See A.G. Sulzberger, Walker Receives Prank Call From Koch Impersonator, The Caucus, The Political and Government Blog of The Times (February 23, 2011 3:33 pm), http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/23/walker-receives-prank-call-from-koch-impersonator/?scp=1&sq=governor%20walker%20prank&st=cse.

[viii] Associated Press, Wis. GOP finds way around Democrats’ absence, CBS News (March 9, 2011), http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/03/09/politics/main20041373.shtml?tag=contentMain;contentBody.

[ix] See id.

[x] Monica Davey, Judge’s Order Blocks Law on Unions in Wisconsin, N.Y. Times, March 19, 2011, at A15, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/19/us/19wisconsin.html.  (The Open Government Law is intended to insure that Wisconsinites are aware of what their legislatures are doing. During Conference Meeting, legislatures draft laws which are ultimately voted on by all available legislatures. In this case, not only did the legislature not give the required 24 hour notice. They did not provide even the 2 hour notice required, in the rare situation, when more time is either “impracticable or impossible”).

[xi] Steven Greenhouse, Judge Voids Wisconsin Law Curbing Unions, N.Y. Times, May 27,2011, A11, available at, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/us/27wisconsin.html?ref=scottkwalker.

[xii] Associated Press, Supreme Court validates collective bargaining law, AP, June14, 2011, available at http://www.620wtmj.com/news/local/123859874.html.

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