Act 10, ten years after

Life goes on

Has it really been 10 years? How did we ever survive Scott Walker’s Act 10? Democrats and progressives predicted trailer trash parks would litter the roadsides, cousins would marry, and gap-toothed moonshiners would race Sheriff Buford T. Justice on the back roads of rural Wisconsin.

One thing we do know: Rockford IL has never been the same.

Blowing one’s own horn

This very day marks the tenth anniversary of one of Blaska’s better journalistic scoops. It was on 9 February 2011 that we announced — then blogging at Isthmus — that Walker would reform/eviscerate public employee unions — two full days before Walker “dropped the bomb” to the rest of the world. Referring to the state government and teachers union presidents in “R.I.P. Wisconsin government employee unions” we wrote:

Marty Beil, time to update your resumé. John Matthews, get a hold of the Help Wanted section of your local newspaper. Soon you will be out of work. Friday is when Gov. Scott Walker lowers the boom on government employees unions. As he has promised.

Not just for state employees unions but for municipal, county, and university and K-12 school unions — the right to negotiate labor contracts all government unions in the State of Wisconsin will be outlawed eliminated. 

Act 10 union protestor, 2011

Two days later, on Friday, February 11, we squeezed into the Governor’s ornate conference room in the Capitol. It was packed with news media and astonished Democrats. Blaska was standing next to Sen. Fred Risser and Rep. Mark Pocan, who sputtered like leaky tea pots. We wrote: “The governor’s demeanor was firm and frank. Asked why he did not negotiate the changes with the union Walker gave two reasons:”

He has nothing to offer. “The state is broke.”

Contract negotiations have averaged 15 months in recent years. “We don’t have that kind of time.”

Indeed, the state employees union could not reach agreement with Jim Doyle! A Democrat who mandated teaching labor union history in the schools! Walker that Friday said he had put the National Guard on alert. He said, very baldly, that he exempted police unions only because (in essence) he might need them if the prison correction officers rebelled, which he did not exempt.

As it happened, we were present that next Monday morning when a previously scheduled march by UW-Madison graduate students, over an unrelated issue, arrived at the Capitol and remained. Their numbers increased over the next few weeks to tens of thousands, a news media circus, and the occupation of the Capitol.

How did we ever survive?

The State Journal’s verdict on Act 10 over the weekend was entertaining and pretty even-handed. 

The law offered Wisconsinites cheaper government, lower taxes and a way out of the immediate budget crisis. But those benefits came at the cost of public employees and exacerbated inequality in the state.

The State Journal damned Act 10 for being “divisive.” That it surely was. But so was civil rights. The most momentous change is always divisive.

Before Act 10, over-taxed private-sector workers were paying the government’s share of employee pensions AND the employee’s share, too. Generous retirement and health insurance plans granted few private sector workers who, to top if off, have less job security. Grateful government union bosses would then reward Democrat(ic) politicians with campaign contributions so that the largesse could continue. Rinse & repeat.

We’ve always argued that Act 10 was education reform more than a budget fix. It allowed school districts more flexibility to recruit and keep teachers since they are no longer bound to uniform compensation programs that rewarded seniority. At least, it allowed those school districts willing to work on behalf of the student. That said, the union still runs Madison’s public schools.

Blaska’s Bottom LineIs Act 10 working? Walker himself tweets that his Democrat(ic) successor loaded his budget proposal with a Christmas wish list of liberal/progressive nostrums. But rescinding Act 10 was not one of them. (Even with a Democrat(ic) legislature, school boards and municipalities would revolt.) Tells you something.

What does it tell YOU?


About David Blaska

Madison WI
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10 Responses to Act 10, ten years after

  1. Kevin S Wymore says:

    As a state government worker at the time myself, I kept waiting and waiting for President Obama to ride to the rescue and rally the troops in Wisconsin. He did not. Apparently, he must have assessed the politics of the situation, and surmised that Gov. Walker was right about the merits of Act 10. Did the reduced pay sting — to pay for our own health care and pensions? Yes, it did. Ten years later, it also seems to have put the state in a better situation than Illinois.

    Liked by 1 person

    • AdamC says:

      The rumors on the streets of Madison were wild…. people actual were expecting Obama to keep his word (he had promised on the campaign trail to put on walking shoes and show up to walk alongside labor….whoops). They were expecting Barack and Springsteen but had to settle for Ol’ Jesse and Even Older Peter Yarrow.

      Has Tony E. proposed abolishing Act 10 yet? Or is he eyeing that surplus longingly? You’d think the teachers would be screaming for him to repeal Act 10 by now.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Liberty says:

    “Tells you something.”

    Also tells you something about the flippancy of voters. The left was obsessed with Act 10, but have seemingly forgotten about it now that Evers is governor.

    As a former Democrat, I will tell you that the GOP could have done a better job at messaging. Republicans came across as anti-worker, and at times heartless & mean-spirited.


  3. AdamC says:

    Thousands stormed the State Capitol on the night of March 9, 2011, including breaking down doors, busting through windows, and hunting down those legislators who passed Act 10. They threatened legislators and the Governor and his family. That night (March 9, 2011) among the thousands who stormed the State Capitol were black-clad young guys amped up on who knows what, wearing Guy Fawkes masks, and screaming for revolution.

    Early Antifa? Wait — check that — can we somehow blame Trump retroactively for the 2011 Wisconsin insurrection?

    Read all the warm fuzzy recollections about this happy fun Cuddlefest in the Madison newspapers and The Nation. Misty-water-colored memories….of The Way WI Were.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Liberty says:

      The same people indignant over the few hours of mayhem in DC, are some of the same who excuse their months-long reign in Wisconsin.

      As Gotch says, despicable lefties.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. georgessson says:

    “…Progressives predicted trailer trash parks would litter the roadsides, cousins would marry, and gap-toothed moonshiners would race Sheriff Buford T. Justice…” Nope, never happened, did it. Well, guess we gotta exclude the Dells area -After all, cousins married up there fer decades. Richard AKA “Dick” likely served the weddings w/ 2 week-old fusty (but neatly stacked) donuts. Then he complained bitterly about Act 10. A coincidence ? I don’t think so. We are what we eat…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. George Parrino says:

    As a scientist looking for work way back when I graduated I couldn’t afford to take a job with State Government, even when wages were raised in the late mid 90s, they paid a lot less than I earned in private business. The generous retirement, medical plans were in lieu of monetary raises. Now school districts are still facing teacher shortages, decades of expertise have been lost for state agencies.

    And yes it did happen, look at where Wisconsin government has been since, we’re governed by gap-toothed legislators who (high on meth?) have refused to believe in reality.


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