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Walker Vs. Labor: The Stage Is Set

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on December 23, 2010

The big news of the day is how the state Democrats failed to get the union contracts approved. Their failure comes despite some extraordinary and rather questionable tactics, such as having disgraced State Representative Jeff Wood exercise his Huber privileges while serving time for his fourth drunk driving offense, just to drive to Madison and vote for the contracts.

The Wood stunt did manage to get the contracts through the State Assembly, only to have them fail in the State Senate, when soon to be ex-Senators Jeff Plale and Russel Decker turned the tables on the Democrats and the unions by voting against them.
It is not surprising that Plale would do so, since he is not a true Democrat. That is why he lost the primary against the energetic and progressive Chris Larson.
Decker’s act of backstabbing came as a little more of a surprise and a greater disappointment to many. There is speculation that Decker turned his back on his fellow Democrats and union brothers and sisters because he was promised a position in Scott Walker’s administration. Others say it is simply because he is a small and petty man. Both are entirely plausible rationales.
But no matter his reasoning, the results are the same.
Democrats spat out their rage at their former majority leader and even stopped the votes after the first one just to caucus and go through the symbolic gesture of stripping him of his leadership position. Union members were less genteel with him. Union leader Marty Beil called Decker a whore. That is one of the nicer comments I’ve heard from state workers.
On the other side, conservatives from across the state praised Decker and his voting against the contract. What they don’t understand yet is that Decker stabbed them and Scott Walker in the back as well.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s coverage of the events in Madison (emphasis mine):

Jauch and other Democrats said Decker, a longtime member of a bricklayers union, would not tell his Democratic colleagues how he was going to vote before senators took the floor. Increasing the surprise, Decker had voted for the contracts earlier Wednesday in a committee that handles state labor agreements.

Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s the same thing that Milwaukee County Supervisor Johnny Thomas did in November 2009, when he voted in committee for the contract with the county’s biggest union, only to reverse himself when it came time for the general vote of the entire Board.
Thomas’ vote-flipping as well as Walker’s trying to negotiate the contract via the public and via his budget all led to the union filing complaints against bad faith bargaining, which was recently upheld.
Union leader Marty Beil is no dummy. Even has he was calling Decker every name in the book, he was probably putting a call into the unions labor lawyers telling them to prepare to file their own complaints.
Due to Walker’s publicly trying to interfere with contract negotiations, even before he is sworn in as governor, his trying to use the budget has as a means as a negotiating too, and Decker’s flip-flop on the contract votes all lead up to a am easy case for the unions to file a bad faith bargaining complaint of their own.
If the precedent set in Milwaukee County continues to be a guide, state workers will continue to work under the old contract for as long as it takes to have their various complaints heard and ruled upon, which could take years. And all this time, because of Walker’s hubris and false bravado, tax payers will continue to have shell out at higher levels and the state’s most vulnerable will be put in harm’s way.
And here the Tea Partiers , Republicans and others thought they were voting for the fiscally conservative ones. I sure hope they can take a joke, because that is what they elected into office.
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