Home  >  Wisconsin  >  Public union membership plummets two years after WI Act 10

Public union membership plummets two years after WI Act 10

By   /   July 17, 2013  /   News  /   27 Comments

By Kirsten Adshead  | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – The conclusion is succinct.

“Wisconsin teacher unions currently have substantial resources from their members and have been an active force in Wisconsin state politics,” wrote the authors of the “How Strong Are U.S. Teachers Unions” report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an advocate for education reform.

“But recent legislation, which sharply erodes their collective bargaining rights, likely heralds an era of diminished strength for public unions in general, and teacher unions in particular in the Badger State.”

AP photo

IN THE BEGINNING: Hallis Mallen, of Madison, Wis., takes part in a January 2012 Recall Walker rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Brian Cunningham, president of a group trying to split off from AFSCME Council 24, criticized the union’s leadership for focusing too much on Gov. Scott Walker and doing too little to help union members within the parameters of Act 10.

Act 10, which gutted collective bargaining for most of Wisconsin’s public unions, passed in 2011.

“I would say that they (Wisconsin’s public unions) don’t have much of a role unless they can reassert themselves and regain what is supposed to be the role of a union, which is to negotiate, you know, working conditions and pay and most other things for members,” said Philip Dine, author of “State of the Unions,” a 2008 book updated late last year to include, among other things, an analysis of Wisconsin’s collective bargaining reforms.

Two years after Act 10’s passage, public sector organized labor is reeling in the Badger State. For some unions, the effects of Act 10 may be fatal.

AFSCME Council 24’s dues-paying membership fell from about 5,900 security and safety employee members pre-Act 10 to 690 in the early months of this year – an 88 percent drop — according to information posted on the Facebook site of the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement and obtained by Wisconsin Reporter.

WACLE is in the midst of a vote to break away from AFSCME Council 24, also known as the Wisconsin State Employees Union, or WSEU.

WACLE President Brian Cunningham said the ballots will be counted Thursday, and organizers will know within days, if not hours, after the vote whether members have chosen to be represented by WACLE, WSEU or neither.

FACEBOOK DOCUMENTS: This is the first of three pages the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement says show internal AFSCME Council 24 information, including a director's report.

FACEBOOK DOCUMENTS: This is the first of three pages the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement says show internal AFSCME Council 24 information, including a director’s report.

Cunningham provided Wisconsin Reporter a copy of the information WACLE placed on its website and said that they were internal WSEU membership numbers, but he would not say where he got them.

Wisconsin Reporter left messages — an email and two voicemails — with WSEU Executive Director Marty Beil over the past two days requesting comment and membership numbers. Beil did not respond.

In December, however, he told the Wisconsin State Journal that WSEU’s overall dues-paying membership had dropped from 22,000 pre-Act 10 to fewer than 10,000.

Among other things, Act 10 made paying union dues voluntary.

For $36 a month

Cunningham criticized AFSCME leadership, including Beil, for being overly combative and focusing on attacking Gov. Scott Walker while doing too little to help union members within the confines of the new law.

FACEBOOK DOCUMENTS: This information posted on the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement's Facebook page, is an internal AFSCME Council 24 document indicating that 690 people are paying dues to the union, out of a possible 5,878, according to WACLE President Brian Cunningham.

FACEBOOK DOCUMENTS: This information posted on the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement’s Facebook page, is an internal AFSCME Council 24 document indicating that 690 people are paying dues to the union, out of a possible 5,878, according to WACLE President Brian Cunningham.

He cited, as something that could be negotiated with the state, securing a minimum age requirement of 21 for prison guards.

“The reality is that if some of these things are not addressed, a staff member, a correctional officer, could be on the wrong end of some type of assaultive situation that could have been remedied by having some type of communication with management, by being able to work together,” he said.

While Cunningham said members initially showed strong support for continuing to pay membership dues voluntarily, over time they began wondering what they were getting for $36 a month.

That’s evident in the large drop-off in dues-paying membership, he said.

“AFSCME continues to push that this (attempt to start a new union) is just six angry guys,” Cunningham said. “And that just isn’t the case.”

The WACLE-WSEU dispute is among the more notable episodes stemming from Act 10.

But it’s clear that other unions also have taken a hit, and the dust hasn’t settled.

For one thing, the state Supreme Court has decided to consider a case arguing Act 10’s constitutionality, based on state law. But the court hasn’t heard the case.

FACEBOOK DOCUMENTS: This information, posted on the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement's Facebook site, is an internal AFSCME Council 24, according to WACLE President Brian Cunningham.

FACEBOOK DOCUMENTS: This information, posted on the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement’s Facebook site, is an internal AFSCME Council 24, according to WACLE President Brian Cunningham.

A federal court, meanwhile, largely upheld the law via a separate lawsuit.

Total labor union membership, public and private sectors, dropped to 11.2 percent of Badger State workers last year, down from 13.3 percent in 2011, according to U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data released in April.

That’s a significant drop, but it reflects a broader national trend of declining union participation, ongoing for decades.

With private union membership also dropping, Dine said, “If you destroy the public sector you basically destroy the labor (movement) at this point.”

AFSCME’s decline in Wisconsin has been precipitous.

The U.S. Labor Department reports the membership of Wisconsin’s AFSCME Council 40 dropped from 31,730 to 2011 to 20,488 this year.

The decline for Council 48, which represents city and county workers in Milwaukee County, was even more dramatic — a 61-percent drop in membership over two years, from 9,043 members in 2011 to 3,498 now.

The teachers’ unions haven’t been spared.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council and American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin have considered merging, partially in response to Act 10.

Incoming WEAC President Betsy Kippers did not respond to an email seeking comment this week and could not be reached by phone.

Outgoing WEAC President Mary Bell told the Wisconsin State Journal in October that WEAC membership is down about 29 percent, from a pre-Act 10 level of about 98,000 members.

Dine said anti-union groups, including business organizations, have capitalized on declining union membership and a faltering economy – which puts financial pressure on taxpayers and local governments – to push forward plans to destroy the public unions.

He finds fault with the unions, too.

Dine argues that having a strong labor-union force in the United States correlates with a strong middle class.

Likewise, he said, weak support for labor unions correlates with a weaker middle class.

But labor unions have done far too little to persuade the public that unions are relevant and beneficial to society, not just to their own members.

Labor unions need to use their political power to make the case to the public, rather than emphasizing passing or overturning specific legislation or getting a particular politician elected, Dine said.

“If the public doesn’t care about the messenger, it’s not going to care about the message,” he said, adding, “If constituents don’t care, politicians aren’t going to care.”

Contact Adshead at [email protected]


Kirsten formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Tom

    Wait, I was told these unions were “good” for America? Heard that about the not so affordable care act too. Odd that national unions now dislike that too. What gives? Oh wait…I know…Koch brothers…

  • Bob Meirkatze

    Looks like many Public Sector employees don’t see the need for a union when you work for the government, which highlights the oxymoron of unionized employees in protected government service jobs.

  • Alix

    WI Teachers: Frustrated with the partisan politics of the WEAC?
    Consider the Association of American Educators, the largest national, non-union
    teacher association. We’ve seen massive growth in WI! Membership is $15 per
    month which includes $2 million professional liability insurance, employment
    rights coverage, professional development resources as well as a host of other
    benefits. aaeteachers.org

  • Franseenit

    The dismantling of unions definitely clears the way for a dictatorship like Hitler’s takeover. Time to wake up folks. Unions are what stabilize our middle class workforce. Prevents the egregious oppression of employees in the workplace – the apathy and FEAR of our workers is what the employers want – suppress wages for more profit. On the other hand perhaps the folks at the top of the
    union organizations started getting greedy as well –
    I have numerous children, nieces and nephews and friends and their college degrees with the student loans are dragging down our future generations – it is so disgusting that so many are not respected in the workplace today. “You want your job tomorrow, stay late; be on call at all hours; train your replacements.” This is what you are hearing from many young workers today. I had a business for many years and treated my employees as I wanted to be treated – no one ever wanted to leave – they loved working in our environment. We had a solid, happy workplace. Todays workers never see the person calling the shots. Many boards of directors have no true voice anymore they are simply figureheads on paper.
    Unions are what made our country strong. This BS about the wealthy being “job creators” is deceit to get everyone to bow to their demands for tax credits, tax breaks, no regulations, rights to our natural resources for their benefit. We must push back on this train wreak that is promoted by this greedy administration in Madison.

  • David Munson

    Perhaps you should look to the government and educational system from Federal to local governments. Specifically look at the exponential lgrowth in the cost of Government services over the last 40 years: By the way 40 years ago, government & municipal workers made a decent living, and most supported families on (1) income. By far the largest increase in costs for all levels has been the increases & benefits for the unionized workers: far outstripping cost of living. Get an education: go back and check your municipal & county budgets from 40 & 50 years ago; and compare them on a per capita resident basis to today. Then take the older figures & factor in the inflation in the interim: you’ll see the problem. You might also looki at the many services that were offered back then that are no longer offered due to lack of funds. Would you like to report back here what your findings were? God Bless!!

  • rhetorical

    That is a pretty strong argument for eliminating benefits and having a national, single-payer healthcare system for all people.

  • risrvt

    It’;s about time the dinosaurs in the room realize they are extinct.

  • Jim

    Let’s see AAE…69,580 new members X 15 bucks a month is $12,524,400 a year…what would you do with that new income???

  • phillyfanatic

    Unions all over seem willing to bend over to the liberal socialists, destroy capitalism, and not able to see the curse of Obamacare, the IRS, green energy, or any leftist policy of their Putin on the Potomac. Perhaps if if if unions are weakening , some of the ex union members will finally wake up and stop voting Dem in local, state or federal elections. The Govt. power they used to crave has been a faux utopian view. Perhaps some of these people will realize that the Dem libs are not in love with America or Americans. It may be a dream but perhaps some of these people will wake up.

  • There shouldn’t be any public unions. FDR, George Meany and Walter Reuther all understood that. They would have approved of Walker’s reforms.

  • Grammy

    How I would have loved to have this tool (Act 10) when I was working for Dane County. It infuriated me to have to pay (ever increasing) monthly dues to a union who used my money to campaign for candidates I would never vote for! Thank you, Gov. Walker, for making union membership dues voluntary.

  • Grammy

    I worked for Dane County for 22 years. The union did nothing for me except take my money and use it to elect people I could never vote for. I always contended that the raise in union dues should not exceed the raise they agreed to for the employees, but the dues escalated at a much higher rate than our raises.

  • Bob West

    What you are missing is the greed of the union workers. True union management and labor set the tone, and mortgaged everyones future, but the rank and file didn’t refuse the raises, or pension benefits, long vacation and sick leave policies. The only reason it appears to contribute to a stable middle class is because the same unionized companies gave all the same benefits to their non-union employees. Other non-union companies benefited, because they could keep their prices competitive without all the legacy costs, and still pay a decnt wage. The problm is that it is a big scheme, because as the pension benefits kicked in, costs kept climbing so consumers were charged more and on and on. A VP at GM tod me that every car had over $2000 of legacy costs in the price, making it tough to compete. Money being paid to people no longer contrbuting to the revenue side. This is nothing more than another bubble bursting and bringing everyone to reality. Had to happen at some point.

  • Franseenit

    Okay, fair enough; however, the Ceo’s ramped up their compensation packages at a much higher percentage during this same time – so it stands to reason that they are even more guilty of the greed that has brought our economy down – in addition they lobbied for legislation that ultimately protected all their money for the eventual blowup. Workers have no such protection – actually workers have become the prey of Wall Street, Banks and insurance companies. We have become the losers. In the meantime, the Koch’s, ABC Supply, etc want to deregulate everything so they can have unfettered access to even more money from the GDP. How much do you think the American working person can take?
    I do agree that the benefit packages for union workers got out of control – I have relatives that never saw a healthcare bill because of their plush insurance benefits while I bought my own since I ran a small business. Often these compensation packages are awarded by board of directors that are not equipped to thoroughly assess the long-term affects of what they were handing out. I still hear stupid excuses similar to this – such as a recent 50% pay increase for WEDEC’s top dog – who can’t even verify where the money went and was dished out to friends of Walker with impunity. If that person is not capable of managing this agency why was she given this exorbitant raise? Walker said it was to stay in line with similar agencies – so we can compete for the best – well, she deserves to lose this job not get a pay raise – I, along with many other Wisconsinites were stunned to hear this on the news. It’s time to put a halt to this unfettered greed all around. Yes, I know I got a little off track but it all goes together – one greedy move after another.

  • ibelieveinfreedom2

    I see your point. Detroit is a fine example of how the unions took such excellent care of the middle class. Oh and I just called my sons and told them all to go out to get better jobs from that guy living under the bridge.. I’m sure he can pay them much more than those wealthy bosses they have now.

  • ibelieveinfreedom2
  • Franseenit

    You aren’t even being logical now – if you believe in freedom so much you will have to pay attention to how you are losing it everyday at the behest of your Washington T-party yokels.

  • John Prospero

    You aren’t even
    being logical now – if you believe in unions so much you will have to pay attention to how
    the UAW essentially made the Detroit automakers uncompetitive in the national
    and world market because their absurd wages exceeded the fair market value of
    their labor….which forced the Detroit based auto industry to manufacture a product
    with twice the labor cost overhead of a non-unionized state or foreign entity….effectively
    forcing them to charge more per car of similar quality then a auto manufacturer
    that is not under the yolk of the UAW.

    And if that is
    not the case ..then please explain why then…the auto industry is decimated in Detroit…and
    they are billions in debt due to unfunded liabilities to retired city workers….who
    out number currently employed city workers….

    Please include blame on Bush/Cheney, Koch
    Brothers, The recently elected GOP governor, and the Tea party in you explanation. Also…make sure you remove any blame on 65 years of
    leftist control of the city from your answer.

  • Anne D.

    What about private unions, where unskilled workers make $22.00/hour for assembly work? This drives up the cost of products-like cars. Thoughts?

  • Tabitha C.

    But not for ALL government employees. Only the unions that haven’t supported him. what about them?

  • Anne D.

    the Koch brothers claim to be Libertarians, yet they appear to support Republicans who are taking away our Liberties. I don’t understand.

  • Tabitha C.

    The Tea Party started out as a good cause. Now, they are singing the praises of Gov. Walker and his anti-liberty agenda. look at Libertarians, like Rand Paul. Wish he was in Wisconsin.

  • I don’t have a problem with private unions as long as the workers’ rights aren’t violated. Closed shops are a de facto anti-trust violation. Unions routinely ignore or undercut Beck rights as well.

  • Jerry McMasters

    Anne D. Truly you do not understand. Koch bros are true Libertarians and employ thousands of workers at a decent wage. What Liberties are you referring to that the Repubs have taken away?

  • Amfortas5

    Don’t you mean “we must push back on this train wreak that is promoted by the failed administration in Washington”?

  • J b

    Sig heil

  • jukin

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people.

    There should be an income tax for all union dues and those dues should not be deductible as 80% of it goes to political campaigns to the evil democrat party.