The weeping, the wailing, the busting of unions

It’s no secret I’ve been advocating for Governor Scott Walker to make the next move and usher through Right to Work legislation in Wisconsin. What I’m beginning to piece together is a covert method for accomplishing pretty much the same thing by coordinating a number of large Wisconsin businesses in a masterful spin campaign.

Last week I wrote about the Fast Forward bill. In a remarkable bi-partisan coup, 94 to 4 in the Assembly, the administration put forward legislation to fund training for the skills gap proffered in Wisconsin.

I showed you a study where Marc Levine from UW-Milwaukee says there is not a skills gap; there is a wage gap. And yes, I used that study in part because it supported my own conclusion. After reading it more thoroughly, I realize it’s good work.

The group called Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce swears there is a skills gap. They are so convinced they are throwing a party to prove it. Ok, it’s a conference titled, Solving the Skills Shortage: The Workforce Paradox.

(I’m going to toss in a little tidbit at this point. I don’t always ask a question because I don’t know the answer. When I asked Anonymous the other day for a little more information, I was trying to draw that person into more conversation. Yes, thanks for the link.)

But sure enough, the manufacturers of the real world are pushing back on Levine’s work. They swear they have stories. What no one will admit is that there are plenty of unionized welders who refuse to work for the wages the manufacturers are willing to pay. Between a cheaper workforce with the same skills in right-to-work states and the added incentive of a little corporate welfare here and there, manufacturers are moving out. Here’s the Kilgore Economic Development Corporation’s side of how Bucyrus ended up in Texas.

It’s a fight for manufacturing jobs, but Walker doesn’t have the stamina to do it through overt legislation, so he’s plopping the lobster in a cold pot and turning on the fire.

First, create the buzz of a skills gap even though none exists. Send it to the media who will play the line over and over again because little else is being done right now to report. Next, send it to the legislature in the form of funding for community colleges and businesses even though college funding was pulled from his first budget.

It all seems nonsensical until you read an article with the word “scabs” in it. Caterpillar, who bought Tim Sullivan’s Bucyrus, is preparing to negotiate a contract with 800 steelworker employees represented by USW Local 1343. You might recall Mr. Sullivan leads the skills gap cheering section. The poor lobsters are beginning to realize they’re being cooked. He was put in charge of lighting the fire.

The union local contends Milwaukee Area Technical College is being used to train workers to replace them. These workers, who might step in and keep a company functioning during a strike, are labeled scabs by those union employees withholding their skills.

I’ve never liked the word scabs. It’s probably because my father didn’t like the word either. He knew the adults in a family do what is necessary to feed that family. He knew that union concessions gained in a time of a full employment are usually lost in a time of cyclical unemployment. He hoped to keep the gains in safety and seniority, and they usually did, and recognized the wage gains would be lost, and they usually were.

So, in an eerily similar puzzle to the one on the WMC conference page, our pieces go together. Wisconsin will provide the funding to train a workforce to be available at a lower wage thereby both closing the wage gap that exists in Wisconsin for skilled employees and by default busting the trade unions.

It’s Right to Work taking the longer road. Scott Walker’s signing pen is untainted going into re-election. Trade unions are decimated. And my personal favorite, an overwhelming number of Democrats in Wisconsin’s Assembly helped it all happen.

Well played gentlemen. Well played.


  1. CUNA Mutual is working on union-busting as we (and its workforce) speak.

    Debbie Eveland from OPEIU Local 39 on 92.1 FM on negotiations with CUNA

    CUNA Mutual Group said Wednesday [March 20] its earnings increased for the fourth consecutive year in 2012 in spite of a sluggish economy and weather-related losses.
    The Madison-based provider of insurance and financial products for credit unions and their members posted net income of $150 million last year, up from $83 million in 2011.
    The company said strong operating results, particularly in lending, direct-to-consumer and asset accumulation products, helped offset drought-related losses in the company’s crop insurance business and weather-related losses in its auto and home businesses. Investment performance also contributed heavily to higher net income in 2012, CUNA Mutual said.
    “Strong operating results in our core credit union businesses, prudent expense management and a $40 million reinvestment in a number of those businesses all contributed to very favorable results,” Chief Financial Officer Alastair Shore said in a statement.
    CUNA Mutual Group said its total cash and investments grew to $11.1 billion in 2012, an increase of $1.2 billion over 2011. Its consolidated surplus rose to $2.5 billion from $2.1 billion.

  2. This post reminds me of the answer I gave so often as an Assembly clerk for a land use committee to the assorted nuts that would call our office and talk to me about nefarious UN land use conspiracies: you give government and its players credit for being way smarter and more organized than any of them actually are.

    These people are incapable of nuance. There’s too many moving parts, too much self-interest, and too much general distrust for anyone to coordinate something this elaborate.

    If what you suggest actually happens, and it has the effect you presuppose it will, it’ll be a result of these guys stumbling bass-ackwards into it.