End Of Compulsory Dues Has Led To Plummeting Union Membership In Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker “can deny that he wanted to weaken public sector unions, but whatever his motivation, that’s what has happened.”

Thus concluded an eye-opening recent op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Wisconsin’s leading newspaper.

And it is true. Since paying union dues became a value judgment by workers rather than a mandatory part of holding a government job in Wisconsin, membership in public-sector unions there has plummeted. The newspaper found membership has declined by 50 percent at some unions and even more at others.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 48, which represents city and county workers in Milwaukee, went from 9,000 members and an income of more than $7 million per year in 2010 to 3,500 members and a deep deficit by the end of last year.

The Wisconsin law required workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to their own pensions and to pay 12.6 percent of their healthcare costs – both figures are about half what private-sector workers are expected to provide.

As CEI Vice President Iain Murray pointed out in his book, “Stealing You Blind,” public employees still get a good bargain. Teachers in Wisconsin earned $49,580 per year on average in 2011 – substantially better than the state’s average personal income of $37,398. Teachers also received more than $26,000 in health insurance, retirement benefits and other insurance benefits.

A two-teacher family – not at all uncommon in the state or elsewhere – therefore was receiving upwards of $150,000 per year from taxpayers for working 9-month jobs.

In other words, the deal they were and are getting from the state was pretty good without union involvement, and, as yet, the unions have not found a way to otherwise demonstrate they do anything worthy of the compulsory contributions that were eliminated in Gov. Walker’s legislation.

And despite the noisy protests that marred debate on the legislation in February 2011 – the sick-outs conducted by teachers, the disruption at the capitol in Madison, the escape by legislators to Illinois to foil quorum and delay the vote – the idea has proven to be a political winner.

Not only did Gov. Walker fend off a recall attempt – he won by a bigger margin the second time around than he had when originally elected – but his political stock has risen substantially. And today comes news that both Walker and Republican candidates for the state legislature are doing quite nicely in the fundraising department. Lege candidates are outraising Democrats, Dems are scrambling to even find a candidate to oppose Walker, and 80 percent of Walker’s $30 million campaign haul has come from small donors.