Education International
Education International

USA: Senators restrict public-sector and teacher unions' rights

published 10 March 2011 updated 18 March 2011

Republicans in the Wisconsin state senate have approved a regressive plan to strip public-sector and teacher trade unions of most of their collective bargaining rights.

The US state's 14 Democratic senators had sought to prevent the move by fleeing the state, leaving the chamber short of the number needed for a vote, but the Republicans used a rarely used procedural move to allow them to vote on the measure in committee instead. Crowds of protesters from EI's U.S. affiliates, the AFT and NEA, swamped the state capitol in Madison following the vote. "The whole world is watching," they shouted as police guarded the entrance to the senate chamber. In the senate gallery, spectators shouted "you are cowards" as voting took place. The plan has prompted weeks of protests in support of public workers and teachers. The Republican-controlled state assembly is due to take up the legislation on Thursday morning, after which it will go to Republican Governor Scott Walker for signature. Mr Walker argues the move is needed to help tackle a $3.6bn budget gap over the next two years but the education unions have said it is intended to weaken the power of the unions, which tend to back the Democrats in elections. The Democrats had called for the Republicans to compromise over public-sector unions' bargaining rights. But Mr Walker's proposal was approved by a special conference committee after it was stripped of financial measures, meaning that a quorum was no longer needed in the Senate. No Democrats were present to vote against the legislation. Republican Senator Dale Schultz cast the only 'no' vote. In a statement published on his website, Governor Walker said: "I applaud the legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government." He added that the state's Democratic senators - who fled to neighbouring Illinois nearly three weeks ago to block a vote - had had plenty of chances to come back to Wisconsin and act. Democratic senate minority leader, Mark Miller, said the Republicans had shown disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights: "Tonight, 18 senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people. Tomorrow we will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government." State unions had said they would agree to Mr Walker's proposed changes to their benefits - which would amount to an eight per cent pay cut - as long as they retained collective bargaining rights. National Education Association President, Dennis Van Roekel, said: “These are actions more fitting for comic book arch-villains. A new crop of state leaders have launched blistering attacks on working families disguised as budget and education reforms, and many have sought to strip workers’ rights to have a voice through their union.” EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said: “Educators around the world are behind their U.S. colleagues, and strongly condemn this assault on trade union members’ basic right to collective bargaining. “Those political leaders who attack education workers with such regressive moves, fail to understand that successful education reform cannot be achieved without the involvement and consent of teachers, education workers and their school communities. EI will make this point, among others, to ensure that the teacher voice is heard at next week’s International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York, where we will advocate for a strong and respected teaching workforce in all countries.”