Labor unions have a lot riding on the outcome of the Scott Walker recall election. They have poured millions of dollars and sent hundreds of volunteers to Wisconsin to assist Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, the Democratic candidate, in his efforts. Local unions have rallied to Barrett’s standard and have initiated a massive get-out-the-vote drive to bring their supporters to the polls on election day.
But all the money and all that effort has gone to waste. Labor unions have already lost the recall election regardless of how the vote turns out. Here are five reasons why:
1. Voters have moved on from the controversy over collective bargaining reform, which was the cause of the recall effort .
When Act 10, the bill to reform the collective bargaining process in Wisconsin, was being considered, labor unions tried their utmost to see it defeated. Tens of thousands of teachers, public employees, and other union members poured into Madison to physically try to intimidate lawmakers into voting against the measure. Democratic state senators took flight and left the state in order to deny the GOP majority a quorum to pass the bill. The anger was real, and union leaders were heartened to think that this kind of enthusiasm could translate into votes. So despite their failure to stop the measure from passing (a mammoth defeat that was followed up by another huge loss when most of the law was upheld in the state Supreme Court), they believed they had the momentum to overturn the 2010 election and recall several of the Republican senators who voted for the measure. Once in the majority, the senators would repeal the law and all would be made right.
Their efforts fell short — another defeat — when four of the six GOP senators won their recall elections, denying Democrats a majority by one seat. Then, late last year, a petition drive got underway to get the state board of elections to schedule a recall of Governor Walker. They managed this with relative ease, and the recall vote was scheduled for June 5.
But something funny happened on the way to the governor’s mansion for unions and their Democratic allies: the Wisconsin voter moved on from the controversy over Act 10. The white-hot anger expressed by public employee unions that inspired much of the public to support their cause has retreated, and voters now see jobs and the Wisconsin economy as far more important factors in the race than collective bargaining reform.
In a recent Marquette Law School poll, 46 percent of the registered voters polled listed job creation as the most important issue in the recall election. On the other hand, 12 percent of Democrats likely to vote said restoring collective bargaining was the most important issue.
Even if Barrett wins, his victory will not be due to the controversy over the collective bargaining issue, but to the fact that Wisconsin’s job creation has been sub-par over the last year. The unions will no doubt try to spin any such victory as a response to Walker’s efforts to “take away” their collective bargaining rights. But the fact is, the public has tired of the controversy and moved on to more pressing matters.
2. The public supports Walker’s efforts to reform public employee collective bargaining.
This from the Marquette poll:
Collective bargaining continues to divide the electorate by single digits. Voters prefer to keep the current collective bargaining law rather than return to what it was prior to last year, by a 50-43 percentage point margin. Restoring collective bargaining is supported by 78 percent of Democrats and opposed by 81 percent of Republicans. Among independents, 53 percent want to keep the current law while 38 percent want to return to the previous law. In the April poll, 49 percent said they favored limiting collective bargaining for most public employees, while 45 percent opposed such limits. In the January poll, using different wording, the public was more evenly split, with 48 percent favoring limiting public employee bargaining over benefits and non-wage issues, while 47 percent were opposed.
Last week, a study came out showing that Walker’s reforms had already saved Wisconsin taxpayers $1 billion, as local school districts have been able to renegotiate health and pension contracts. Despite a demonization campaign against Governor Walker, a majority of voters do not see collective bargaining reform the same way that unions do.