Public employee unions: Reinventing themselves in Walker's anti-union Wisconsin

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Last week the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel bannered a story describing how public employee unions representing Wisconsin workers have lost members and cut political spending as a result of the union-busting Act 10 law signed by Gov. Scott Walker.

But that's the negative side of the situation. The positive side is that unions are still around, and adapting to the Walker assault on worker rights. Salon.com just posted a nice piece on the matter, and it ought to be encouraging. Public workers and their representatives in organized labor aren't giving up, and are taking the fight right back to the lawmakers who stomped on them. Here's one tasty little morsel from Salon's excellent, upbeat report (URL below):

Stripped of legal protections, unions have to turn to their workers for power. The Teaching Assistants’ Association, the University of Wisconsin–Madison union that spearheaded the capitol occupation, is at the cutting edge. With high turnover among grad students and the cumbersomeness of re-voting for a union every year, the TAA decided not to seek recognized union status. With the drop in member dues, the union laid off all its staff. In place, it has reinvented itself to leverage worker voice outside the bounds of collective bargaining. Last school year, it launched “Pay Us Back.” Through “grade-ins” at administrative offices, petitions and informal bargaining, workers are seeking a raise in wages, which sit, on average, below $10,000 a year, and a remission of required fees, which soak about 10 percent of their pay.

The Salon piece sums up with questions:

By gutting well-financed vehicles for worker contracts and grievances, Act 10 is forcing unions to reinvent themselves and build power at the base. Will the shells that exist — and the lived memory of the uprising — be used to build a diverse, cross-class movement that extends beyond Dane County? Will unions shift their resources from state-level electoral politics — which loom large as a second term for Walker portends right-to-work for private sector workers — to shop-floor and community organizing? And to rehash the question two years later, this time with an eye to more recent right-to-work states in the region, what can organized labor learn from Wisconsin?