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How the Deep Roots of Farm Labor Solidarity Helped Wisconsin Survive the Pandemic

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When Covid-19 forced Wisconsin to shut down in late March last year, supply shocks to the agricultural industry delivered a staggering blow to family farmers, many of whom have long teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Decades of consolidation and monopolization have made the industry inflexible to changes in demand brought about by school, restaurant and commercial closures. Processing plants soon bottlenecked with sudden oversupply, forcing farmers around the state to dump millions of gallons of raw milk, destroy crops and euthanize livestock en masse. All the while, over 500,000Wisconsinites faced record-level food insecurity. 

At the same time, on the factory floor waning OSHA regulations and delayed responses by meatpacking companies to adopt Covid-19 guidance (if done at all) left thousands of workers completely unprotected, allowing outbreaks of the virus to tear through processing plants and surrounding rural communities.

For decades, Big Ag has starved out small farms, hastening the decline of rural communities, and worsened working conditions for its labor. This fraught food system, exacerbated by the pandemic, has ignited a new statewide movement of solidarity from farm to factory. Led by family farm unions operating in small towns like Chippewa Falls, labor unions and immigrant rights groups organizing in population centers like Milwaukee, their work builds upon a history of progressive populist organizing in Wisconsin.

At its most basic level, ?“farm-labor solidarity is recognition that workers at all stages of the food chain should be compensated fairly for the work that they’re doing,” says Melanie Bartholf, Political Director for United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1473, ?“and that the economy does better when farmers and workers are compensated fairly.” 

For groups like the Wisconsin Farmers Union, a small and mid-sized farm collective with over 2,000 members in rural communities around the state, this unity is essential to goals of carving out an alternative, sustainable model for a cooperative food system. ?“We’re based on the idea that it’s better for 10families to be milking 100 cows than 1 farm milking 1,000 cows. Having small scale agriculture and a healthy agricultural economy that’s built on cooperatives and is democratic, that’s the food system that we’re fighting for out here” says Charlie Mitchell, a journalist and WFU farm-labor solidarity organizer.

“You see farmer power when billions [in federal farm relief] get activated without thinking of farm support,” Mitchell adds. “ But then our brothers and sisters in the slaughterhouse and grocery don’t get a penny of hazard pay to account for the fact that they’re risking their lives to bring us food.” 

In October, condemning the loss of Hero Pay for essential food workers as Covid-19 cases surged across the state, WFU and UFCW joined forces to form a farmer-labor alliance. This alliance, the first and largest of its kind in years, is working to pressure county officials to intervene at meatpacking plants to increase worker testing and PPE access, as well as strengthen workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. 

The alliance also marks the first time in its history that UFCW, the largest labor union in the state with over 12,000 members, has come out in full support of farmers’ demands for parity, stronger antitrust enforcement and dairy supply management. 

In Wisconsin, the spirit of this agrarian organizing can be traced back nearly a century. At the height of the Great Depression, when milk prices plummeted to unsustainable lows, thousands of farmers and laid off factory workers enacted a series of milk strikes in pursuit of parity. Led by the Farmers’ Holiday Association and the Wisconsin Cooperative Milk Pool, farmers and their urban allies staged hundreds of pickets along major highways and railroads, assembling crude blockades to intercept milk shipments bound for factories. Months of violent protest, milk-dumping and the bombing of a cheese factory in 1933 succeeded in drawing federal attention to the plight of dairy farmers. Raised prices and a short-lived period of parity followed.

“Organized farmers and organized workers have the same general aim,” reads a 1939 pledge of solidarity penned by the Wisconsin Farmers Union and Wisconsin State Federation of Labor. ?“They both desire to maintain and raise the American Standard of Living. Cooperation between these two most vital forces in American society is essential if we are to realize that goal.”

Mexican-American and Mexican migrant farmworkers, without whom there would be no agricultural industry, have also played a crucial role in the advancement of labor. Organizing against hostile working conditions, housing ?“unfit for human occupancy,” unlivable wages and lack of access to education or medical care, thousands of farmworkers joined together to form Obreros Unidos in 1967, the first sustained attempt at a farmworkers union in the Midwest, and one of the few outside of United Farmworkers in California. With considerable support from local labor groups, churches and community members, as well as the backing of the AFL-CIO, Obreros Unidos succeeded in raising the minimum wage for farmworkers, improved housing conditions and established the Governor’s Council on Migrant Labor. Jesus Salas, the union’s co-founder, would also go on to lead United Migrant Opportunity Services, an organization serving nearly 300,000 migrants in the state.

The 1980’s farm crisis, followed by decades of disastrous trade deals and agricultural policies laid the groundwork for the industrial agricultural takeover that continues to this day. While most dairy farms in the state are still small, family operations, they’re shuttering at rapid rates. Since 2015, over 2,500 have gone out of business, nearly a quarter of the state’s total swallowed by CAFOs. Yet, in the midst of this crisis, when public sector unions infamously came under attack in 2011, farmers once again rallied in support. In a massive display of opposition against Act 10, hundreds of farmers from around the state drove their tractors and combines to Madison for a solidarity tractorcade around Capitol Square, garnering crowds of nearly 85,000, the state’s largest protest to date.

“We pulled together that tractorcade because we were trying to show that the Scott Walker austerity program wasn’t just attacking labor unions, it was attacking all sorts of things in our society, including collective bargaining rights by co-ops,” says John Peck, Executive Director of Family Farm Defenders and an organizer of the tractorcade along with WFU. ?“We were trying to show that farmers and workers actually have this common heritage, organizing together to create unions and co-ops comes out of the same populist tradition.”

Despite the eventual passage of Act 10, and subsequent right-to-work legislation, the fight for labor continues. In February 2016, when an anti-sanctuary city bill in the state legislature posed an attack on immigrant labor, the statewide strike ?“A Day Without Latinx and Immigrants” once again rallied tens of thousands to the Capitol. Organized by Voces de la Frontera, the state’s leading immigrant and migrant workers’ rights group, the strike successfully defeated the bill, in large part due to inroads made with rural communities, and went on to inspire strikes nationwide.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, founder of Voces, writes of this watershed moment, ?“Two days before the strike, Voces de la Frontera held an emergency meeting with farmers to draft an open letter calling on farmworkers and farmers to support each other by forming skeleton crews to care for the cows while the rest of the workers struck.” In turn, Neumann-Ortiz writes, ?“farmers used their voices to lobby Republican state leaders to defeat the bill.” For Voces, building relationships with groups like the Farmers Union has been essential for expanding their reach into rural districts, tapping into an important constituency capable of influencing their Republican representatives. ?“Farmers understand that immigration is critical to the survival of rural communities and are becoming a key partner in our efforts to advance policies that make our communities more welcoming to immigrants,” writes Neumann-Ortiz.

Through nonpartisan rhetoric appealing instead to shared values, Voces and the Wisconsin Farmers Union are working to draw solidarity between small farm owners and immigrant farmworkers, who make up over half of the dairy industry’s workforce and account for 79 percent of the nation’s milk supply. According to Jacquelyn Kovarik, Voces Communications Director, this approach has seen considerable success. ?“Small farm owners and undocumented laborers have a lot of shared values because both are being taken advantage of by big dairy.”

“Corporate agriculture is in the business of extraction… The things that farmers and laborers do, that’s where the wealth comes from, and that’s forgotten,” echoes Hans Breitenmoser, a second generation dairy farmer from Merrill, Wisconsin. ?“Financially, we as farmers just have a hell of a lot more in common with laborers than we do with the CEO of a multinational conglomerate.”

Last year alone, over $46 billion in federal aid was paid out to farmers (including the annual $10 billion federal farm subsidy), accounting for nearly 40% of their income. Food workers, who account for some of the lowest wages across industries, continue to be among the hardest hit by Covid-19, with over 81,000 positive cases as of January. Routinely failed by the government and exploited by employers, many farmers and food service workers believe farmer-labor solidarity is key to achieving a safer, sustainable and cooperative food system; a system built on fair wages for farmers and workers, and one which supports workers’ rights to organize. 

“This has been a really hard time for progressive politics in Wisconsin. … and a fair amount of divisiveness had been developing in farmers for sure,” says Thomas Quinn, retired director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. ?“When I first started organizing and farming in the 1980’s, there was a lot more openness to the idea that farmers needed to build solidarity with labor and that the unions were on our side, rather than our opponents.” For Quinn, despite the increasing political division he sees in rural communities, remembering the achievements of solidarity-movements past gives reason to be hopeful. ?“It’s so important to hang onto that history and carry it forward, otherwise it gets lost, and people think it can never happen. But it can, and it has.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on January 27, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hannah Faris is a multimedia journalist based in Chicago and an In These Times editorial intern. She has worked with South Side Weekly, Kindling Group and Kartemquin Films.


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Study: Repeal Of Wisconsin’s Prevailing Wage Law Led To Drop In Wages For Construction Workers

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A new study from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) released exclusively to Wisconsin Public Radio finds the repeal of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws has resulted in lower wages for construction workers in Wisconsin, despite having no statistically significant impact on the cost of public construction projects.

Prevailing wage laws set minimum pay requirements for wages paid to workers on public construction projects, like school buildings or highway construction. 

Former Gov. Scott Walker along with GOP lawmakers in the state Legislature repealed Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law for local construction projects in 2015. Two years later, the GOP repealed Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law for state construction projects. 

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the study shows that before the laws were repealed, the average annual income for full-time construction and extraction workers was close to $49,000. After the laws were repealed, average annual income was a little over $46,000, a drop of more than 5 percent. When the study removed factors such as education and age, the average annual income for workers was 6 percent less than income pre-repeal.

“Prevailing wage provided ladders of access into the middle class for Wisconsin construction workers,” Frank Manzo IV, policy director for the MEPI, said, adding that repealing it has had negative consequences for those same workers. 

Two of Wisconsin’s neighboring states with prevailing wage laws in place showed a smaller drop in annual average income between 2015 and 2018. In Illinois and Minnesota, annual incomes dropped by under 2 percent combined.

The study further found that at the same time, construction industry CEOs saw an increase in pay after the repeal of the prevailing wage, worsening economic inequality, according to the authors. Researchers estimate construction industry CEOs in Wisconsin saw slightly more than a 54 percent increase in inflation-adjusted total income after the laws were repealed.

The data also showed that, following repeal, there was a decrease in the likelihood that skilled construction workers had employer-sponsored health insurance. 

“Repeal has lowered wages and reduced health coverage for skilled construction workers, and resulted in less work for local contractors,” Manzo said. “At the same time, repeal has failed to deliver cost-savings on public projects and to increase bid competition — both of which were promised by politicians.”

Kevin Duncan, an economics professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo who was part of the study’s research team, said when construction workers have a lower income and less health insurance coverage, it has broader effects on local economies.

“When income goes down for construction workers they have less to spend in local retail and service industries,” Duncan said. “And then also with a decrease in health insurance … benefits, that results in greater reliance on public assistance. When construction workers are paid less they have to rely more on public assistance — (food stamps), that sort of thing — so that tends to increase the taxpayer burden.”

Fewer Wisconsin Contractors, No Effect On Construction Costs

At the time of the repeal on state construction projects, many Republicans criticized the law, saying itinflated the costs on public projects, and arguing that repealing the laws would save taxpayers money. 

But researchers with MEPI said the data shows repealing prevailing wage had no statistically significant effect on the costs for public construction projects.  

Researchers also found that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation saw fewer bids from Wisconsin-based contractors after the laws were repealed compared to before. Between January 2015 and September 2017, more than 2,600 bids for DOT projects came from Wisconsin contractors. But between October 2017 and December 2019, following the repeal of the laws, that number dropped to a little over 1,700 bids.

The drop meant the share of bids from out-of-state contractors increased from 9 percent to 13 percent in the same timeframe.  

“What that means is … Wisconsin tax dollars that previously went to Wisconsin contractors and construction workers, (are) now being used to pay workers from out of state,” said Duncan. “When that happens, Wisconsin tax money leaks out of Wisconsin and it stimulates economies in neighboring states instead of supporting the local economy.”

The MEPI study also found there was no statistically significant impact on the racial or ethnic diversity of construction workers before and after repeal. The study did find a drop in the share of women working in construction in Wisconsin after the repeal of prevailing wage, despite that number being extremely low prior to the repeal. 

This blog originally appeared at Wisconsin Public Radio on October 2, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rachel Vasquez is a producer at Wisconsin Public Radio.


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Wisconsin bill would ban cities from passing worker-friendly laws

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Wisconsin is considering a bill that would prevent local governments from enacting worker-friendly ordinances relating to overtime, discrimination, benefits, and wages. On Wednesday, the Senate held a public hearing on the GOP-backed bill.

The bill, Senate Bill 634, would prevent local municipalities in Wisconsin from increasing the minimum wage, stop enforcement of licensing regulations stricter than state standards, and prohibit labor peace agreements (in which employers agree to not resist a union’s organizing attempts). The bill also specifically says that no city, village, or town can prohibit an employer from soliciting information on a prospective employee’s salary history, because uniformity on employer rights is a “matter of statewide concern.” Since research shows that women are paid less right out of college compared to male counterparts and there are large racial wage gaps, proponents of these ordinances say that prohibiting employers from asking about salary history could help narrow the pay gap.

Madison City Attorney Mike May told Wisconsin-State Journal in December that the “biggest impact” would be on protected classes under Madison’s Equal Opportunity Ordinance. If the bill became law, May said it would mean that discrimination based on student status, citizenship, and even being a victim of domestic abuse would all be “fair game for discriminatory practices.”

“This bill attacks workers, our rights and our democratic processes,” Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer for the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, testified during the hearing. “This bill is about power, the power to overreach and tell citizens in their own communities that they don’t know what’s best for them.”

Wisconsin state Democratic senators Robert Wirch and Janis Ringhand voiced their opposition to the bill in statements on Wednesday. Both senators focused on how the bill could affect municipalities’ power to pass ordinances pertaining to sexual harassment.

“We need to be expanding avenues for victims of sexual harassment and assault to get justice, and not making it harder,” Wirch stated.

The committee didn’t take immediate action on the bill on Wednesday, but it’s still concerning that it’s being considered. Wisconsin Republicans have trifecta control of the state and have been successful in pushing a number of anti-worker bills through the legislature. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is nationally known for his long record of supporting anti-union bills. He signed bills that stripped the majority of Wisconsin’s public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights and made Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state, which means workers can decide not to pay fees to unions because the union has to represent them regardless.

The Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Council of Churches, League of Wisconsin Municipalities and some labor unions oppose the bill, according to the Associated Press. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and groups representing various businesses support the bill.

Nick Zavos, government relations officer in Madison Mayor Paul Soglin’s office, told Wisconsin State-Journal that the mayor is “deeply concerned about the direction (the legislation) represents,” with particular emphasis on the preempting of local ordinances relating to employment discrimination.

Wisconsin is not an outlier in considering this kind of legislation. As city governments have pushed for better labor standards, states across the country have passed laws to preempt increased protections for workers. At least 15 states have passed 28 preemption laws like this one that cover labor issues such as paid leave, minimum wage, and fair scheduling, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s August 2017 report. As the report notes, historically, preemption laws were used to set minimum statewide standards for workers that local governments couldn’t lower. These recent laws are doing the opposite. 

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 11, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.


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Wisconsin’s Foxconn Deal Enriches Billionaires With Taxpayer Cash

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Taiwanese billionaire Terry Gou every once in a while likes to think “outside the box.” Back in 2010, for instance, the giant electronics manufacturer that Gou runs — Foxconn — was facing what corporate flacks like to call a major “PR problem.” Working conditions inside Foxconn’s massive Chinese factories had become so incredibly stressful that workers were committing suicide in shockingly large numbers. They were leaping out factory windows to their deaths.

And what did Gou’s Foxconn do to try to calm the worldwide outrage? The conventional corporate move would have been to dial back the pressure on workers. Foxconn’s move under Gou? The company stretched safety nets in those places where workers would be most likely to leap.

Keeping the pressure on workers — no matter the consequences — has helped Foxconn’s Gou accumulate a personal fortune somewhere north of $6 billion. But Gou has also perfected another sure-fire strategy for piling up the big bucks. He gets taxpayers to give him money. Lots of it.

Gou has cut a wide assortment of subsidy deals over the years, with politicians from Indonesia to Pennsylvania. The deals all follow the same pattern. Foxconn promises to build “job-creating” factories. The political jurisdictions involved hand Foxconn lucrative “incentives” to do the building.

State lawmakers in Wisconsin have now just taken the first step toward approving Foxconn’s biggest subsidy deal yet. The state Assembly has given the green lightto what appears to be the biggest subsidy ever handed out to a foreign firm by a U.S. political entity.

Wisconsin taxpayers will, if this deal gains expected state Senate approval, hand Foxconn $1.35 billion for building a factory complex that will employ 3,000 workers. The total package of “incentives” for Foxconn could hit $3 billion — with $2.85 billion of that in taxpayer cash and another $150 million in various tax breaks — if Foxconn’s operation in Wisconsin ends up employing 13,000 workers.

How much per job would Wisconsin be shelling out? One likely scenario: about $500,000 per job. The worst-case scenario: as much as $1 million per job. And neither number here takes into account the Foxconn deal’s eventual environmental cost. Foxconn will be receiving, besides the taxpayer cash, an exemptionfrom regulations that protect Wisconsin’s wetlands.

So Foxconn gets mountains of cash and a free pass to pollute. What do the people of Wisconsin get? One of the largest “economic development” projects the United States has ever seen, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker crowed last month at a White House ceremony announcing the deal with Foxconn’s Terry Gou and President Donald Trump.

Foxconn’s Jobs

This “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” adds an aide to Walker, will bring thousands of “family-supporting jobs.” The new positions, business boosters for the Foxconn deal trumpet, will pay an average $53,000 per year.

But that $53,000 figure only applies to the first 3,000 jobs Foxconn is promising to create and averageshighly paid managerial positions in with job slots for assembly-line workers. Actual workers at the new Foxconn complex will likely take home much less than $53,000.

How much less? Community groups skeptical about Foxconn want any deal with the company to include a wage floor. They’re seeking stipulations that guarantee workers at least $15 an hour. The Republican statehouse majority in Wisconsin has so far quashed every attempt to set a decent wage minimum.

You can’t support much of a family, critics of the Foxconn deal are contending, on less than $15 an hour. And you can’t spur economic development that creates good jobs, add watchdogs opposed to the Foxconn deal, by handing corporations giant giveaways.

Throwing money at businesses, as former Kansas City mayor Mark Funkhouser notes, has been a “bad idea” ever since cities started “offering bonuses and pecuniary inducements to manufacturers” in the late 19th century.

These inducements have ratcheted up considerably over recent years, even before taking the new Foxconn deal into account. Between 1990 and 2015, a new Upjohn Institute study shows, average “incentive” packages for businesses tripled in value.

The results of this vast upsurge in subsidies?  The U.S. political jurisdictions that did all this subsidizing, the Upjohn researchers found, would have experienced the same economic results without the incentives, observes former mayor Funkhouser, “94 percent of the time.”

What Does Create Good Jobs?

What does spur the economic development that creates good jobs? The city of Richmond in Virginia is moving in one hopeful direction. Richmond has begun an Office of Community Wealth Building that aims to enrich local residents instead of billionaire CEOs. The city is focusing on everything from improving regional transportation systems to fostering locally based social enterprises. The Democracy Collaborative, a national organization, has fashioned a network of localities involved in similar “community wealth building” all across the United States.

These operations could certainly use some encouragement from the federal level. But President Trump has proposed a budget, notes Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First, that eliminates “successful federal programs that benefit small- and medium-sized manufacturers.” The contradictions between Trump’s budget cuts for these programs and his White House cheerleading for the enormous Foxconn subsidy deal, adds LeRoy, “boggle the mind.”

Foxconn’s Terry Gou would likely see none of these contradictions. That the few should benefit at the expense of the many makes perfect sense to him, as the billionaire makes plain in one of the Gou quotation posters Foxconn has plastered on the walls of its Chinese factories.

“Growth,” proclaims this particular Gou quotation poster, “thy name is suffering.”

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on August 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: A veteran labor journalist, Sam Pizzigati has written widely on economic inequality, in articles, books, and online, for both popular and scholarly readers.


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Wisconsin’s “Smoking Gun Of The Rigged Economy”

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dave.johnson “Outsourcing is the smoking gun of the rigged economy.”
— Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

Companies extort tax breaks and subsidies by threatening to withhold jobs. After their demands are met, they instead outsource the promised jobs. For the workers who remain, the threat of outsourcing causes their wages to fall. As Donald Trump said, if companies outsource jobs to places where workers make less, then “… you’ll come back … because those guys are going to want their jobs back even if it is less.”

But lately people have been figuring out ways to start doing something about these kinds of things. People are organizing to build power, making noise that the public and elected officials can hear and making clear demands that force politicians answer the question, “Whose side are you on?”

Wisconsin’s Privatized Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)

One group organizing people and forcing public officials to declare whose side they are on is Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a People’s Action affiliate. They are an “issue focused coalition of individuals and organizations committed to achieving social, economic, and environmental justice.” Citizen Action of Wisconsin is taking on the Republican Scott Walker administration over their privatization and use of the state’s “jobs agency” Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to subsidize corporations even as they move jobs out of the state.

In 2014, Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch laid out the background in Madison’s The Cap Times, in “Only 5,840 ‘actual’ jobs from Walker’s WEDC”:

… In July 2011, WEDC was launched “with the mission of elevating Wisconsin’s economy to be the best in the world.” The quasi-public agency is run by a 15-person board chaired by the governor.

The agency was soon caught up in controversy. In July 2012, allegations of bid-rigging forced it to cancel a planned award to an information systems company. In October the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported WEDC had lost track of some $8 million in funds. In May, WEDC was slammed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for misappropriating $10 million in federal funds.

In May 2013, the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau found that WEDC had awarded a portion of these grants, loans and tax credits to ineligible recipients, for ineligible projects and for amounts that exceeded specified limits.

WEDC controls an extraordinary amount of taxpayer funds. In fiscal year 2011-12 alone, Walker’s WEDC administered “30 economic development programs through which it authorized local governments to issue $346.4 million in bonds, awarded $41.3 million in grants and $20.5 million in loans, and provided $110.8 million in tax credits to businesses and individuals,” says the audit bureau.

With all that taxpayer money, how many actual jobs have been created?

The answer, in 2014, was, “Two official state data sets indicate that for every verifiable job Walker’s WEDC managed to create, the state lost more than two to plant closings and layoffs.” Then 2015 audit found that the problems had only gotten worse.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Takes On WEDC

In July of this year Citizen Action of Wisconsin announced what they found from an open records request of the privatized agency. In “WEDC Safeguards Against Outsourcing Completely Nonexistent”:

In response to a series of outsourcing scandals Governor Walker’s troubled jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), adopted in 2014 a 30 day advanced notification policy. This policy is supposed to give state policymakers early warning if a corporation receiving state economic dollars plans to outsource jobs or downsize more jobs than they are paid to create.

An open records request by Citizen Action of Wisconsin found that despite a series of additional incidents of WEDC funded corporations outsourcing Wisconsin jobs, there are zero 30 day notifications in WEDC’s files.

They followed up in August, in, “At Least 11,331 Wisconsin Jobs Outsourced Overseas Over the Last Five Years,” which explains how “Governor Walker and Senator Johnson have aided and abetted multinational corporations in selling out Wisconsin workers for short-term profits.”

Data kept by the U.S. Department of Labor shows that at least 11,331 Wisconsin workers have had their jobs outsourced to other countries since Governor Walker’s scandal ridden jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), was launched July 1, 2011. This is a very low-end estimate of the impact of outsourcing in Wisconsin because it only accounts for groups of workers who successfully applied for Trade Adjustment Assistance from the federal government by proving their jobs were eliminated because of global trade agreements. It does not account for outsourcing to other states, or downsizing where it is not possible to prove the jobs landed in a foreign country or were impacted by global trade deals.

Both Governor Scott Walker and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson have consistently supported a rigged economic system which allows multinational corporations to pit Wisconsin workers against low-wage foreign workers.

Also in August, a Wisconsin Public Radio report, “Citizen Action Of Wisconsin Claims WEDC Misrepresented Jobs Created In Sherman Park,” found that the agency was reporting success in creating 500 jobs in the very neighborhood where lack of opportunity contributed to two nights of disorder following the police shooting of Sylville K. Smith.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin reviewed a database on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation website and found the agency reported supporting and investing in the creation of 483 jobs in Sherman Park located on the city’s north side. When the nonprofit researched the companies adding those jobs, it found the companies to be located outside Milwaukee.

Summary: Republicans privatized the state economic development agency, awarded subsidies to companies that included campaign donors, stripped safeguards, and “lost track” of where millions of taxpayer dollars went. Meanwhile, companies receiving subsidies intended to create jobs in Wisconsin were actually shipping jobs out of the state and country, as part of an effort to pit state workers against low-wage workers and force down wages. WEDC aided that effort by misrepresenting the jobs numbers, and even reporting nonexistent job-creation.

Outsourced Wisconsin Tour

In response Citizen Action of Wisconsin has launched what they call the “Outsourced Wisconsin Tour” to “focus attention on corporate outsourcers who are taking public job creation dollars.”

The announcement, “Outsourced Wisconsin Tour Launched” explains:

Following last week’s revelation that over 11,000 Wisconsin jobs have been outsourced in the past five years, advocates for good jobs launched a statewide tour on Thursday of corporations who are outsourcing while taking public job creation dollars.

The first company on the tour is the Rexnord Corporation in Milwaukee:

At a news event today community leaders detailed how Rexnord outsourced Wisconsin jobs at the same time it took millions in public job creation dollars from Governor Walker’s scandal plagued Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

[. . .] According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor and WEDC, Rexnord has actually outsourced more jobs than it has been paid with public dollars to create. The company has received $2.75 million in WEDC funds, but has so far outsourced 130 more jobs than it is has created.

“The Smoking Gun Of The Rigged Economy”

Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin explained the reason for the tour.

“Outsourcing is the smoking gun of the rigged economy. It would stun most Wisconsin workers to learn that state leaders are aiding and abetting economic treason by giving public dollars to corporations who are outsourcing more jobs than they create. It’s long overdue for federal and state government to side with workers by using it leverage to build an economy where everyone who wants a good job can get one.”

You can join their effort to end outsourcing, and say, “Enough!”

Click here: 11,331 WI jobs Gone Overseas in Last 5 Years – Tell Madison: Enough!

“With so many Wisconsin workers struggling to find family supporting jobs, our state and federal governments ought to be focused on creating an economy where everyone who wants a good job can get one. Shamefully, elected leaders who are supposed to work for us often aid and abet corporate outsourcers, helping them rig the economy against average people. They vote for trade deals which make it easier for multinational corporations to ship more of our good jobs overseas. In Wisconsin Scott Walker gives huge subsidies and tax giveaways to unpatriotic CEOs engaged in outsourcing our jobs.”

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on September 12, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


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Scott Walker Implements Backdoor Way To Drug Test People For Unemployment Benefits

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Bryce CovertUnder current law, states aren’t allowed to institute drug tests for unemployment benefits. But that hasn’t kept Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) from trying.

In July, Walker approved legislation that would implement drug tests for both unemployment benefits and food stamps, neither of which are currently permissible. To get his way, he’s suing the government to allow him to move forward with implementation, arguing that these programs are “welfare” just the same as the welfare cash assistance program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, that does in fact allow states to implement drug tests.

But in the meantime, he took steps this week to do as much as he can under his limited authority. On Wednesday he authorized new rules that allow employers to voluntarily submit information about drug tests they made people take as a condition of employment. If any of those employees end up seeking unemployment benefits but failed the employers’ drug tests or declined to take one, they can be denied benefits unless they agree to get taxpayer-funded drug treatment.

“This new rule brings us one step closer to moving Wisconsinites from government dependence to true independence,” Walker said. “We frequently hear from employers that they have good paying jobs, but they need their workers to be drug-free. This rule is a common-sense reform which strengthens our workforce by helping people find and keep a family supporting job.”

But past experience from states that drug test welfare recipients shows they are anything but common sense. The positive test result rates are far lower than the drug use rate for the American population as a whole — last year, some states didn’t turn up any positive tests at all. Meanwhile, they are quite costly: states collectively spent nearly $2 million administering the programs over the last two years.

Walker’s plans to spread drug tests to other programs are mostly on hold. In the meantime, beyond suing the government, he’s asking Congress to give him permission. He’s reached at least one sympathetic ear in Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), who chairs the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee that administers food stamps. He’s put forward a measure that would allowing testing for that program.

This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on May 6, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

 


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The Legal Argument That Could Overturn ‘Right-to-Work’ Laws Around the Country

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in these times

Union supporters had reason to cheer earlier this month when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s hated “right to work” law was overturned by a Dane County Circuit Judge. Unfortunately, the decision is all but certain to be overturned by Wisconsin’s conservative Supreme Court. But contained in the case is a line of questioning over the constitutionality of the right-to-work concept that has quietly been playing out in federal courts.

The result could be that all right-to-work laws are nullified—and sooner than you might imagine.

“RTW” takes money and power from unions, but is that a ‘taking?’

The logic that the Wisconsin judge leaned upon in his decision has its origins in a federal case called Sweeney v. Pence, in which unions made an unsuccessful attempt to overturn Indiana’s recent right-to-work statute on constitutional grounds. Although the unions themselves did not raise this argument in the 2014 case, Chief Judge Diane Wood argued in her dissent that “right-to-work” provisions violate the U.S. Constitution’s Takings Clause.

“This is a law,” says Marquette Law Professor Paul Secunda, “that compels one private party to provide benefits to another private party with no compensation.” He is convinced that right-to-work laws, which permit represented workers to quit their union and stop paying fees while simultaneously obligating that union to continue to spend resources representing them, are an unconstitutional “taking.”

If the issue makes its way up to the Supreme Court, and the justices agree with Secunda, the result could overturn the section of the National Labor Relations Act that allows states to pass right-to-work measures as well as the statutes in all 26 states that have passed them in one fell swoop.

The Wisconsin case won’t get there. Because Wisconsin is in the same 7th Circuit that rejected the “takings” argument in Sweeny v. Pence (making it, for now, a settled matter there), unions filed their case in state court over the state’s constitution.

But West Virginia and Michigan are states that recently passed right-to-work laws, and they are both in different federal court circuits. Unions in those states could challenge the constitutionality of right to work on the federal level. Unions in Idaho already have a case pending, which is a particularly exciting prospect as that state falls within the liberal 9th circuit. (Keep an eye out for Operating Engineers Local 370 v. Wasden.)

The “takings” approach is not without its critics. Seattle University Associate Professor of Law Charlotte Garden notes that Judge Wood’s interpretation of the Takings clause is one more commonly advanced by anti-regulatory conservatives, and that labor taking up the cause could have unintended consequences. “There’s a difficulty of applying existing ‘takings’ law in this kind of context,” she says. “Takings” is generally applied to property, she says, and what’s being taken from unions is the labor of their staff.

As an alternative strategy, Garden points out that the NLRB has indicated an openness to considering whether unions in right-to-work states can charge a fee to non-members who want to file a grievance.

Any rulemaking by the Board on right to work can expect to be challenged by business interests, which could open different constitutional questions about the law. The Indiana unions actually argued in Sweeney v. Pence that the Taft-Hartley amendments to the NLRA were only meant to apply to questions of compelled union membership, not fees for service. But I believe there remains a compelling argument about legislative intent.

Remembering our history will be vital to success

The judges who rejected the “takings” logic in Sweeney vs. Pence argued that unions weren’t uncompensated for their duty to represent all workers in a bargaining unit. They wrote, “we believe the union is justly compensated by federal law’s grant to the Union the right to bargain exclusively with the employer. The reason the Union must represent all employees is that the Union alone gets a seat at the negotiation table.” This is a bunch of ahistorical nonsense that betrays a lack of understanding of labor relations and power dynamics.

But why should we expect a couple of judges to get this right when most union activists are so muddled on the history and effects of the duties of exclusive representation and the union shop? To win, we need to understand our history and have real clarity on our goals to regain power.

When the National Labor Relations Act was written, unions were “members-only” organizations that competed with each other. They contested for power in the same workplaces over who would make the best bargaining demands, who could extract the bigger concessions from management and who could organize the most successful job actions. Employers hated this.

In pursuit of labor peace, employers began signing contracts with unions as the “sole and exclusive representative” of their workers. These early contracts gave employers a one-year guarantee that there would be no new union demands and no strikes. Unions went with it because it helped knock out the competition. The NLRB, which had been certifying unions as representing their members only, also went with it and now certifies unions as exclusive representatives, exclusively.

Agency fee originated not merely as compensation for the financial costs of representing all the workers in a unit, but for the political costs. During World War II, patriotically motivated unions pledged not to strike, and were rewarded with government-dictated wage freezes. Workers protested by quitting their unions. In order to keep unions from dropping their no-strike pledges, the War Labor Board began to reward unions a “maintenance of membership” rule which prevented workers from quitting the union during the term of a contract. This evolved into the union shop and agency fees.

The combination of exclusive representation and agency fee does contain the potential for real power and real wins for unions, as well as labor peace for employers. But it also tends to make unions more conservative and less militant. Exclusive representation without agency fee is the worst of both worlds, and should be resisted.

For three quarters of a century the only way that the NLRB would “certify” a union was as the exclusive representative of all of the workers at a represented workplace, mostly with the union’s understanding that it could bargain for a contract clause that obligates represented workers to pay some fair share of the union’s expenses.

This “union certification” gives collective bargaining the force of law that an arm of the federal government—the NLRB—will drag an employer that refuses to recognize and bargain “in good faith” with a certified union to court to force them to. So, for a union to tear up this “certification” to represent all of the workers and say, “we only represent our members now” carries the risk of losing the backing of the NLRB—but the potential reward of forcing the courts to grapple with the tradeoffs of forced representation without taxation.

To win big, we need a union in a right-to-work state that is genuinely willing to cede exclusive representation to kick out the scabs.

What I think this would look like is that union, just prior to the expiration of their current contract, filing a letter with the employer and the labor board disclaiming representation of the entire bargaining unit but demanding to bargain for their members only (and subsequently refusing to bargain over a no strike clause). We’ve got a much stronger case if it’s brought to federal court by an employer complaining that a union won’t represent all the workers than one brought by a union complaining about a loss in agency fee revenue.

It is time to start using the courts more strategically

The idea that the Supreme Court could swing from seriously considering forcing the entire public sector to go right to work in this term, to weighing the very constitutionality of right-to-work laws two or three years later might seem too fantastical, but such is the strange lack of case law over the underlying legal justification for requiring that a union represent all the workers but forbidding them to mandate dues and fees for that service work.

“This isn’t stare decisis at all,” says Paul Secunda, describing the Latin term for the legal obligation of judges to stand by settled decisions. “You’ve got one decision from one circuit court. This is hardly settled case law.”

As I’ve noted, unions have tended to shy away from judicial strategies, and, on right to work in particular, labor has long favored a legislative solution. Repealing the Taft-Hartley Act that contained the right-to-work amendment to our nation’s main labor law was the top legislative priority of the AFL, the CIO and its merged successor from the time of its passage in 1947 well into the 1980s.

There were 12 right-to-work laws on the books—all in former slave states—at the time of Taft-Hartley’s passage. They had no force of law, as the federal NLRA preempted them—that is, until Taft-Hartley. And again, a close look at the legislative intent might reveal that Congress merely meant to allow states to ban union membership—not agency fees—as a requirement of employment. Or, more crudely, they may have basically been saying, “Let the Confederacy secede from the New Deal.”

The AFL and the CIO, which by 1947 had both abandoned organizing the south, seemingly wrote the former Confederacy off at the time. Since labor lost little to no membership as a result of those first 12 right-to-work states, little brainpower was devoted to challenging the constitutionality of the scheme. Likewise, when right to work next spread to western and plains states like Arizona and Nebraska, labor similarly wrote them off.

When right to work first spread to a bedrock labor stronghold, Indiana in 1959, the move was so controversial that within eight years labor had managed to overthrow the Republicans, who supported it in all three chambers of government and repeal the law. This win—the only instance of a right-to-work law being repealed legislatively—may have ultimately been counterproductive, giving unions false hope that killing right to work is a matter of making sure the bad guys don’t win re-election.

The labor movement of 1965 could entertain such fantasies. The labor movement that has seen bases of union power in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia go “right to work” within the same half decade must wake up to the fact that it will take more than elections to reverse the damage. It will also take a judicial activism agenda for labor, like I have advocated.

And ultimately, working people in America will gain no new rights without stoking a hell of a lot of chaos, through strikes and more. But we’ll also gain no new rights without legal demands like the Operating Engineers Local 370 v. Wasden case hanging out there. It is now up to the sisters and brothers in other “right to work” states—Michigan, West Virginia and beyond—to join the fight.

This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on April 21, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Shaun Richman is a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.


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What Scott Walker’s Elimination Of Wisconsin’s Living Wage Law Means For Workers

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Bryce CovertLast year, 100 low-wage workers in Wisconsin decided to sue their governor, Scott Walker (R), over their pay. The state had a century-old statute on the books saying that the minimum wage “shall be not less than a living wage,” enough “to permit an employee to maintain herself or himself in minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.” The workers said they weren’t making enough to meet that standard, demanding the governor take the required action to increase it.

But this week they were handed a final defeat: A judge dismissed their lawsuit. That’s not because Walker’s administration was found to be in compliance with the statute. It’s because rather than increase the state’s minimum wage, the administration simply erased the law.

“The lawsuit has just been dismissed because there’s now no law to rule on,” explained Lisa Lucas, communications director for Wisconsin Jobs Now, one of the groups that helped bring the original suit. “So it wasn’t surprising. But it was disappointing.”

An 11-hour addition to the state budget passed and signed in July eliminated the living wage statute, instead replacing all references to a living wage with the words “minimum wage.” “The budget itself was a really sneaky, underhanded way to do it,” Lucas said. “They stuck the repeal in an omnibus motion.” And it also flew under the radar thanks to bigger controversies over other such additions, such as the failed attempts to gut the state’s government transparency laws.

The budget’s amendment completely changed the ordinance. It was specifically put forward in 1913 to ensure that women and minors were paid enough to be able to afford the cost of basic necessities like rent and clothing, which was updated in 1919 to cover all workers. Now it merely ensures a minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased in Wisconsin since the last time the federal minimum wage went up in 2009.

And in that intervening time since the last hike, new Census Bureau numbers show that median household income fell significantly in two-thirds of counties in the state, dropping by at least 10 percent in 10 and only rising in two. Lucas sees a connection to the minimum wage. “Prices have gone up, everything has gone up including rent, except the minimum wage,” she said. And an analysis by her organization found that nearly 47 percent of the state’s workers make less than $15 an hour.

Lucas said discussions with the legal team at her organization are still ongoing, but given that there’s no law to sue under anymore, it is unlikely to pursue more legal action. Instead, the group is focusing on political pressure in 2016 to rally voters and elect officials who support a minimum wage increase. And while the defeat was disappointing, it may have come with a silver lining. “If there’s anything good that comes out of it, it’s just revved up the community to work that much harder in 2016,” she said. The workers themselves who were involved in the original suit “are more amped up than ever to go elect some people who will support them and fight for their values.”

And while she pointed out that a $15 minimum wage bill has gained some support in the state legislature, she also said her group will be focused on issues in addition to a higher minimum wage: paid leave, scheduling reform, and more full-time hours among them. “Besides wages, there’s other things that workers need,” she said.

Wisconsin is “home of the labor movement,” she noted. “We’re proud of our progressive history and we want to continue living it.”

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on December 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

 


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States Where Minimum Wages Are Supposed To Be Living Wages

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Bryce CovertLast week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that he is taking advantage of a state law to raise minimum wages without the involvement of the legislature. He’s not the only governor with that power; others could also follow suit.

New York State law gives the labor commissioner the authority to convene a wage board to investigate whether the minimum wage in a specific job — or even all of the jobs in the state — are adequate, and to issue a “wage order” to increase it without the involvement of state lawmakers. On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that he would direct the commissioner to investigate wages in the fast food industry. New York was the home to the first strike in the fast food industry demanding a $15 minimum wage and has been home to them as they continued to spread across the country.

But Cuomo isn’t the only governor with the power to set a higher minimum wage without approval from a state legislature. According to an analysis from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), state laws in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin all empower their governors in similar ways. “There was a time when the minimum wage was less politicized and there was a sense that it should be at a level adequate to deliver decent incomes for workers,” explained Paul Sonn, general counsel at NELP. “These laws are still on the books in a number of places.”

States have already been raising their own minimum wages, to the point that the majority have a higher wage than the federal level of $7.25. But some state lawmakers haven’t been taking action. “Where the legislative process won’t deal adequately with the minimum wage, governors should dust [these laws] off and use them aggressively to deliver the wages that workers need,” Sonn argued. “Governors in states with this authority should be using them more frequently and more creatively to address the problem of low wages.”

One example could be California, which has a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who already signed a minimum wage increase to $10 by 2016 back in 2013. “Cuomo is saying, ‘I’m going to make New York a progressive leader with the strongest minimum wage in the nation,’” Sonn said. “Jerry Brown could do the same thing.” A spokesman for the governor’s office told ThinkProgress he wasn’t aware of similar options to what Cuomo did in California, but noted that there are other new bills and proposals to raise the wage.

The authority can also be used against governors who aren’t supportive of higher minimum wages. That’s already happened in Wisconsin. There, a state statute says that all wages in the state have to amount to no less than a living wage and that any member of the public can file a complaint saying the minimum wage fails that standard. Last year, low-wage workers and worker organizing groups submitted 100 complaints to Gov. Scott Walker (R) alleging that the state’s $7.25 minimum wage violates the statute, although his administration rejected the complaints.

A similar fight could start brewing in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie (R) has voiced his opposition to increasing the minimum wage. “The Governor of New Jersey has the power to raise wages for hundreds of thousands of workers,” Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families, told ThinkProgress. “We will absolutely be calling on Gov. Christie to follow in the footsteps of Gov. Cuomo, who Christie has called his ‘separated at birth twin brother.’” She also said the issue would be brought up beyond Christie’s administration. “Over the coming year Working Families activists [will] be asking every potential gubernatorial contender in New Jersey’s 2017 election where they stand on using the state’s wage board to end poverty wages,” she said.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

 


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Scott Walker’s Forgotten War Against the People of Milwaukee

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Laura ClawsonBefore he was governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker was Milwaukee county executive. Foreshadowing how he’d govern the state, Walker spent his time as county executive slashing Milwaukee’s safety net. As governor, he can do that by pushing and signing laws that lower the bar the state is trying to clear in taking care of its needy residents; as county executive, hemismanaged and neglected and fought back against the basic standards the state had laid out, to the point where the state had to take over Milwaukee county’s welfare programs:

At the height of the recession, in 2008 and 2009, requests for aid in Wisconsin, and throughout the country, soared. But in Milwaukee, where 41 percent of African Americans live below the poverty line, people had trouble getting help. Roughly 95 percent of calls to the county’s client-intake call center went unanswered in 2008, a state probe later found.The social services department budget funded 25 positions at the intake center, but a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter found only seven staffers working among empty cubicles when he visited. […]

But the problems weren’t just at the call center. In 2008, one out of five food stamp recipients dropped for ineligibility were in fact eligible, and wrongly cut from the program. In 2007, 60 percent of county decisions to cut food or other aid were overturned on appeal within two months. Roughly 30 percent of needy applicants were waiting more than two weeks for aid. Two-thirds of all complaints received by state welfare agencies involved Milwaukee County residents having problems obtaining Medicaid, food aid and child care services. And while the state paid a higher share of Milwaukee’s income-maintenance program costs than in other counties, Walker complained that state funding was inadequate.

Walker’s answer to his own mismanagement was, predictably enough, privatizing the services. And he used these battles—his drive to hurt Milwaukee’s most vulnerable residents—to appeal to Republican voters statewide in his 2010 gubernatorial run. Walker may just be the purest embodiment of the Republican divide-and-conquer strategy, always looking for the next poor black person or union member to attack as a moocher who has it too easy, chipping away at one group after another as long as he and millions of dollars of Republican dark money can keep a big enough chunk of voters convinced that they are the fine upstanding citizens who will be immune to his attacks. But he will always have his eye on the next target.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on March 3, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.


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