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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wisconsin Union Membership Plunges Ahead Of Recall

By Susan Duclos

Next Tuesday is the Wisconsin recall election where Tom Barrett, Democrats, liberals and unions are trying to unseat Governor Scott Walker. Recent polling has Walker up by 7.

Polling averages in May have Walker ahead of Barrett by a 6.6 percent margin. (Numbers at link change as new polling data becomes available)

The Wall Street Journal reports that in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the state's second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers, fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011.

Much of that decline came from Afscme Council 24, which represents Wisconsin state workers, whose membership plunged by two-thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.

A provision of the Walker law that eliminated automatic dues collection hurt union membership. When a public-sector contract expires the state now stops collecting dues from the affected workers' paychecks unless they say they want the dues taken out, said Peter Davis, general counsel of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

In many cases, Afscme dropped members from its rolls after it failed to get them to affirm they want dues collected, said a labor official familiar with Afscme's figures. In a smaller number of cases, membership losses were due to worker layoffs.

Those keeping an eye on the recall election in Wisconsin might remember that in mid-May, unions suffered a blow when a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that unions cannot automatically deduct dues from members' paychecks by offering those members the opt-out option but the members must  opt-in before unions could take their deductions.

Despite claims to the contrary by liberals and unions in Wisconsin, Walker's controversial budget reform bill (Act 10) did not harm union members but did attempt to level the playing field, so to speak, between private sector employees and public sector employees. A study just released shows that salaries for the two sets of employees are more equal now but compensation is still excessive for public employees in comparison to private sector employees.

We find that state and local government employees receive salaries roughly equal to those paid to private sector Wisconsin employees with similar education and experience or working in jobs with similar skill requirements.

However, even following Act 10, pension benefits for Wisconsin public employees are roughly 4.5 times more valuable than private sector levels while health benefits are about twice as generous as those paid by larger private sector Wisconsin employers. This difference results in a combined salary-benefits compensation premium of around 22 percent for state workers over private sector workers, with varying but often larger pay advantages for local government employees.

In November 2010, according to the former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle's administration, Wisconsin was on track for a $3 billion deficit for the state.

Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's administration on Friday told Republican Governor-elect Scott Walker that he would have to cope with a $2.2 billion deficit in the state's upcoming two-year budget, but this brighter-than-expected forecast contained more than $1 billion in hidden pain.

To arrive at the favorable estimate, the Doyle administration's estimate assumed that Walker and lawmakers would make spending cuts that have yet to actually happen - two more years of state employee furloughs, no pay raises, a virtual hiring freeze and belt tightening in state health programs. Without that $1.1 billion in savings, the state's projected shortfall rises to $3.3 billion - a significant increase over previous estimates that put the gap at between $2.7 billion and $3.1 billion.

Now it is 2012, Walker's controversial budget reform was passed and resulted in a  projected surplus for the state.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated in February the state would finish the two-year budget period that ends June 30, 2013, with a $143 million deficit.

But the state Department of Revenue now estimates that the state will take in about $265 million more than the bureau expected, which should translate to a $275.1 million surplus on June 30, 2012, and a $154.5 million surplus on June 30, 2013, Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch wrote in a letter to Walker.

Huebsch said revenue officials based the projections on larger-than-anticipated tax collections through April and revised federal Bureau of Economic Analysis forecasts showing better-than-expected personal income growth in 2011.

Had the recall election happened before the results of Walker's policies became a clear success, Barrett possibly would have been performing better in the polls, but the initial accusations against Walker that his budget reform bill would harm Wisconsin's economy have been dis-proven by the actual results.

National Implications

With five days until the recall election, Democrats are now throwing everything they have behind Barrett, including sending Bill Clinton to the state to campaign against Walker. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has stated she considers the recall election a "dry run" for Obama.

The RNC has also stated their belief that the recall election has long term implications and a Walker win would improve the chances for Republicans in November 2012  of putting Wisconsin "in the red column for the first time since 1984."