Posted by Brendan Fischer on April 22, 2011

Union supporters celebrated and right-wingers raged when the Associated Press reported on April 15 that Governor Scott Walker admitted Wisconsin saves no money by "weakening government workers' collective bargaining rights." When responding to a question from Rep. Dennis Kucinich during congressional testimony, did Walker really admit the union-busting bill costs no money? And will implementing the annual recertification requirement actually cost Wisconsin taxpayers?

Did Walker Confess?

Walker's opponents pointed to the statement as proof that the governor's union-busting was politically and ideologically motivated rather than a necessary fiscal measure. Walker's supporters pointed to the AP story as proof of the mainstream media's liberal bias, alleging his statement "that particular part doesn't save any" was in response to a narrow question about costs of annual recertification, not union-busting overall. (Watch the testimony here.)

But annual union recertification is an integral part of Walker's effort to limit collective bargaining rights. It is closely tied to the requirement that annual elections be won by a majority of eligible employees, rather than a majority of voters (another non-money saver for the state).

As former U.S. Solicitor of Labor and current Wisconsin Law School emeritus professor Carin Clauss told
CMD in February, "No politician could get into office if we held elections this way." Only 27% of the eligible voting population cast votes for Reagan in his "landslide victory" over Jimmy Carter in 1980, as only half of the population voted. "Most workers, like most citizens, don't vote," particularly if elections are held each year. Contrary to the claims of his supporters, Walker admitting that this direct attack on unions had no fiscal impact was significant.

During the hearing, Kucinich also pointed out that mandatory dues collection saves the state no money (without protest from Walker) and the state budget office found no fiscal impact for the overall plan to limit collective bargaining.

Another Unfunded Mandate?

While Walker admitted that annual union recertification will not save the state any money, Kucinich should have pointed out that the measure will actually cost the state a great deal. As CMD wrote on March 12:

The Wall Street Journal has pointed out what an expensive bureaucratic nightmare it will be for the twenty-person Wisconsin Employee Relations Committee to certify annual elections for the 2,000 unions representing Wisconsin's 200,000 state employees around the state.

Currently, the Committee deals with 50 elections per year. Walker's bill will require the agency to deal with 40 times that amount in a one-month period, but does not allocate funds to increase its capacity.

Walker has long expressed opposition to unfunded mandates. How will the Walker Administration implement these new requirements without significantly increasing the Wisconsin Employee Relations Committee's staffing levels and resources? And how much will that cost?

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.