Op Ed

The Freedom to Work For Less

New labor law by Walker and GOP is all about “freedom”... Not.

By - May 2nd, 2017 01:03 pm
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Leah Vukmir. Photo from the State of Wisconsin Blue Book 2015-16.

Leah Vukmir. Photo from the State of Wisconsin Blue Book 2015-16.

The day after Easter in DePere, Governor Scott Walker signed into law Senate Bill 3, which prohibits “state and local governments from requiring a bidder on a public works project to enter into agreement with a labor organization.” Or even from “considering, as a factor” whether or not the bidder “has entered into an agreement with a labor organization.”

Walker signed the bill at a table decorated with the words “Freedom to Work,” which you might call an abbreviation for: “Freedom to Work for Less Money and with Fewer Safety Precautions and Not as Much Training.”

Of course, it’s hard to get all that on a sign.

SB3 was proposed – some would even say “authored,” though that is in dispute – by State Senator Leah Vukmir (R-5th District) and Assemblymen Rob Hutton (R-13th District).

The bill was supported by the usual suspects: Americans for Prosperity, Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the almighty WMC (Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce).

SB3 is an interesting example of the harsh ideological divisions in Wisconsin, with freedom-extolling Republicans once again limiting the freedom of counties and municipalities to make their own decisions.  (Try proposing a regulation to your town council banning plastic bags from supermarkets – such a ban would now be against the law in Wisconsin.)  Opposing SB3, besides labor organizations, were the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the Wisconsin Counties Association, and Dane County.

Public hearings on SB3 took place last winter, and the bill was debated on the floor of the State Senate early last February. Wisconsin has 33 state senators, 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Voting on the bill was strictly along party lines with one Democratic abstention. In the debate on the senate floor prior to the vote, State Senator Chris Larson (D-7th District), claimed that SB3 was “another piece of legislation imported by a special interest group by the name of ALEC, the . . . equivalent of Match.com for corporations and politicians.” In other words, the corporate donations go into the pockets of politicians, and the ALEC bills come pouring out of the state legislatures.

ALEC stands for American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group known for drafting the legislation passed by conservative-dominated state legislatures nationwide. Senator Larson claimed ALEC has been a “treasure trove of bills” that do nothing but “reward corporations that would rather pay poverty wages than support Wisconsin’s hard-working families. SB3 is a clear example of favoring the rich over our working neighbors. The collusion between some legislators and alt-right think tanks and their corporate donors has never been stronger.”

Larson was stretching a point when he referred to ALEC as an “alt-right” think tank. ALEC, with its heavy reliance on high-minded euphemism, is hardly in the same category as white-supremacist provocateurs like Breitbart News.

Any criticism of ALEC is likely to irritate Senator Vukmir who defended the organization on the Senate floor while attacking the purity of Larson’s own vote. In a tone dripping with sarcasm, she said, “Imagine that, ALEC, an organization that believes in free markets, limited government and federalism [language that could be lifted straight from ALEC’s Web site], supporting a bill about open contracting. Wow. Gosh, that’s so far-fetched. You know, uh, I support this legislation, not because I’m a member of ALEC, not because I’m the past national chairman of ALEC [she is and she was]. I support it because it is good public policy. And you know, Senator from the 7th, I wouldn’t accuse you of being opposed to this legislation because you’ve received support from labor unions like the Teamsters and AFL-CIO, if you have . . . ”

For the record, Chris Larson has received a whopping 100 bucks from Teamsters Joint Council 39, according to the Campaign Finance Database published by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Total contributions from organized labor to Larson amount to $5,375.

Leah Vukmir, according to the same source, received $24,717 in campaign contributions from the construction industry in Wisconsin, and another $11,217.90 from specifically road construction companies during her 2014 State Senate run.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, construction wages in Wisconsin typically undergo modest increases of about 1.8 percent per year. In 2012, the average wage of a construction laborer was between $17.60 and $18.60 per hour, or about $38,680 per year. By 2016, that hourly wage had gone up to between $18.70 and $19.93 per hour.

In 2012, Wisconsin operating engineers – heavy equipment operators – made between $25.19 and $25.52 per hour or $53,080 per year. In 2016, heavy equipment operators averaged between $26.43 and $27.71 per hour or $57,650 annually. These figures apply to both union and non-union wages.

But these construction wage-earners, and anyone in Wisconsin who’s earning a paycheck, carry a disproportionate amount of the income tax burden.

According to Tamarine Cornelius of the Wisconsin Budget Project, writing in Urban Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s wealthiest one percent pays 6.2 percent of every dollar earned in taxes, while middle-income Wisconsinites, like those construction workers, pay 10.2 percent of their income in taxes.

State wages are virtually stagnant relative to the cost of living, and likely to remain so now that Wisconsin is a Right to Work state. At the same time, Wisconsin’s richest citizens, with their disproportionate influence in Madison, are making sure the tax burden is shifted to the already overstressed middle class.

While Wisconsin’s wealthy enjoy a cut in taxes, our public schools are under-funded, social services are getting cut, and some insurance companies are charging Wisconsin customers more because of our state’s potholed roads and highways.

As far as the roads are concerned, the only idea the governor can come up with is to borrow money and pass the burden of road repair on to future generations.  As far as the rest of the budget goes, it’s all about cut, cut, cut. During the 2016 State of the State address, I was stunned by Walker’s shameless bragging about how many Certified Nursing Assistant jobs have been created since he took office.

Funny, I think Wisconsin used to have a little more to brag about. But that was before Republicans cut the University of Wisconsin’s budget by $250 million so Walker’s big donors could pay less in state income taxes. Wisconsin’s brain drain may be legendary, the state may be last in the Midwest in new job creation and entrepreneurship, but hell, at least we’re not running out of nursing assistants any time soon.

Think about that the next time you hear one of our Wisconsin Republicans bloviating about “freedom.”

RT Both writes a blog at https://wiscoland.wordpress.com

Categories: Business, Op-Ed, Politics

2 thoughts on “Op Ed: The Freedom to Work For Less”

  1. Fred and Rita says:

    And next it will be “Freedom to Not Have Medical Insurance if you have a pre-existing condition”

  2. blurondo says:

    Thank you for your contribution to the sorry history of Leah, I never respond to a constituent’s inquiry, Vukmir. She is one of the main cogs in Wisconsin’s race to the bottom.

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