One of the key arguments in the continuing legal battles to overturn Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union law is that citizens of this state and country have the right to associate freely. By arbitrarily "decertifying" public employee unions that refuse to jump through Walker's expensive, time-consuming legal hoops in order to gain virtually nothing, Wisconsin Republicans want to pretend that those unions and the employees they continue to represent are somehow now "illegals," just like many of those lawmakers regard undocumented immigrants brought in by businesses to work on the cheap.
[Let us not forget that after businesses for decades exploited many immigrant and citizen workers. Cesar Chavez led a movement that resulted in the creation of the United Farmworkers of America union. No wonder the GOP regards both unions and immigrants as illegals. They're just useful, economical tools, until they get too damned self-aware, organized and uppity.]
Despite the anti-union measures in Walker's Act 10 law, a number of local and regional units of government in Wisconsin have continued not only to formally bargain with their employee unions, but also on occasion sit down to talk informally with representatives of their employees. Given the uncertain legal status of the law, neither of these actions are, at least at the moment, whatsoever illegal. But to hear Republicans whining about it, you'd think these interactions were not only counterproductive, but out and out criminal.
Case in point: A committee of the Milwauke County Board has been sitting across a table from representatives of District Council 48, the county government unit of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The chair of the county board, heavily criticized for this by two GOP senators, responded that no contract was being contemplated but that the two sides were indeed having discussions.
Well, to Repubs it doesn't matter whether the two sides in Milwaukee County are actually bargaining (which, as we've noted, isn't at the moment illegal, given stays on Act 10 imposed by a court hearing the pending case) or just talking (which, between employers and employees, is always a good idea). Repubs are outraged! Outraged!
"This irritates the heck out of me," said State Senate President Michael Ellis, who was joined in his criticism by State Sen. Alberta Darling. He called the talks "advancing an agenda in violation of state law." You see, the county's agenda should, in the minds of Republicans, be set in Madison, not locally.
What the Republicans really are worried about is history. Because, if you go back and study history, you'll discover that the way unions in general won the right to formally bargain was by spending years and decades engaged with their employers informally. It's a slippery slope, and Republicans want to put up a snow fence so you can't ride your labor-rights sled.
Both Ellis and Darling intimated that the Milwaukee County talks could bolster efforts by Walker and Republican legislators to pass a law that would drastically cut the county board's authority, budget and pay, giving often business-friendly Milwaukee County executives far more power, including full power in the future to bargain with any labor unions who are deemed worthy of the honor by the tin-horn tyros in Madison.
The stays issued in the Act 10 case and in earlier court decisions on other Walker-era laws, including the Voter ID requirement, have propelled Republicans to propose laws that would greatly limit the ability of courts to do their traditional job. If the courts don't serve the interests of the legislative and executive branches, they should -- Republicans essentially say -- be stripped of their counterbalancing powers. So much for due process and democracy as defined in our constitutions.
The word from Repubs now comes down to this:
Attention, union members and union leaders: Shut up and get back to work! You're supposed to take orders and keep your heads down! You're not supposed to be talking to anybody in power. Because that's totally, irrevocably illegal, and you're violating our fine new anti-union law, even if the greater laws of this land protect your speech and your freedom to assemble; and even if the conversation isn't about an actual labor contract, which in itself is bad, bad, bad! Because workers don't have a right to a voice in their workplace; only bosses (ahem, and bossy politicians) have that right.
Unless, of course, you belong to a police, firefighter or other union that sends cash to Republicans -- then none of these restrictions apply. So, in word and deed, insist our ever-so-thoughtful, ever-so-freedom-loving, ever-so equity-minded Republican lawmakers.