Prison guards vote to leave Wisconsin State Employees Union

2013-07-19T08:50:00Z Prison guards vote to leave Wisconsin State Employees UnionSTEVEN VERBURG | Wisconsin State Journal | sverburg@madison.com | 608-252-6118 madison.com

Prison guards voted Thursday to break away from the once-powerful Wisconsin State Employees Union, already wobbly at the knees after a 2011 state law effectively ended public sector union rights.

The vote was 1,548-1,108 for the split.

“From the governor’s office on down, everybody is watching this to see if this is the first domino to fall,” said Brian Cunningham, a guard at Waupun Correctional Institution who is interim president of the new union, the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement.

The election makes WACLE the representative for about 5,900 state security and public safety workers, a big chunk of the 22,000 members who belonged to WSEU before Act 10 outlawed most state employee collective bargaining and made union membership voluntary.

WSEU has had to cut staff as its dues-paying membership plummeted, landing below 10,000 earlier this year. Cunningham said only about 660 safety and security bargaining unit members were still paying dues to WSEU.

An additional roughly 2,500 WSEU members could fall off the rolls in 2015 when their contract at University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics expires. The state law doesn’t affect unions that are still under contract.

The victory for the guards union may be fleeting, because it was won with a simple majority of votes cast under Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission rules.

But the new union will need to recertify in a few months under a provision of Act 10 that requires annual approval by 51 percent of all bargaining unit members.

That means recertification will require twice as many votes for the new union — more than 3,015 assuming the unit continues to include 5,913 members. Fewer than 2,900 mailed in ballots by Thursday’s deadline.

State employee bargaining units must file by Aug. 30 for recertification balloting that will take place from Nov. 1 through Nov. 20.

“They are trying to charge down a new path through this new collective bargaining world we have,” said Tim Scheffler, an attorney for WACLE. “Certainly they have some work ahead.”

Cunningham said he wants to begin bargaining for a contract immediately. And he said WSEU could face more challenges from other units whose members have expressed interest in WACLE’s model of cutting dues in half — about $18 monthly compared to about $36 for WSEU — and its promise to be more responsive to member concerns and possibly less involved in electoral politics.

WSEU director Marty Beil has maintained that a smaller union with fewer financial resources would be crushed by the Republicans who took control of state government in the 2010 elections.

WACLE leaders exploited low morale created by Act 10, falling prey to the GOP’s “divide and conquer” tactics, he said.

“We are disappointed that many security and public safety workers were so disillusioned that they chose to essentially go it alone instead of standing with their brothers and sisters in other professions,” Beil said. “We are going to continue fighting for state employees long after the current crop of politicians is gone.”

The law allows certified public sector unions to bargain for cost-of-living pay increases, but government administrators and elected officials have the final say. Working conditions are off the table.

In comments prior to the vote, Beil scoffed at Cunningham’s belief that once WACLE is certified, even with the anemic collective bargaining allowed by Act 10, Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration will improve pay and working conditions for prison employees.

The prison workers, who make up the bulk of the state security and public safety bargaining unit WACLE now represents, have chafed as the state Department of Corrections has changed work rules and neglected safety concerns, Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the new union would take legal action to reinstate a provision under which guards were paid for 10 minutes a day to cover time walking to and from their posts from the front gate. Since Act 10, the state has disallowed the practice, paying guards only for time they are at their work stations.

Many of the guards have been vocal in their displeasure when the state employees union has given financial support to liberal candidates.

It was unclear Thursday how WSEU would respond to the election results. The union has eight days to file an objection with WERC over how the election was conducted. Cunningham said he expects WSEU to challenge the separation in court.

Another possible related outcome is something union leaders have talked about since Act 10 passed — retrenchment through some sort of merger between the state employees union and two other American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees councils in Wisconsin: Council 40, which represents mostly state and local government employees throughout the state, and AFSCME Council 48, which covers Milwaukee County.

“Council 40 is willing to talk about what’s in the best interest of the members,” Council 40 director, Rick Badger, said Thursday.

Badger said he was surprised and disappointed by the prison guard vote.

“I know how much all of AFSCME has stood behind the workers ever since Act 10,” Badger said.

Peter Davis, general counsel of the Employment Relations Commission, said the last defection from WSEU was by law enforcement officers. In 2005, a group of 916 officers split from WSEU, said Madison attorney Sally Stix, who represented the police officers and also represents Cunningham’s group.

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(27) Comments

  1. On_paper
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    On_paper - February 03, 2014 12:04 pm
    To all DOC employees: when you have a workplace scenario for harassment, intimidation, or a whistle-blower option, gather evidence yourself with a digi-corder and then get a lawyer in Madison. Either go with Fox or Pine in Madison: Madison is where your case will be heard and it is less travel time for attorneys from abroad. Keep/print all e-mails that are relevant, ignore the DOC threats of firing/leave, policy violations, and just get proper documents and recordings to your lawyer. Do NOT under any circumstances sign (PHI ) Persoanl Healthcare Information release forms, do NOT answer questions in an Admin. "Wellness check"-they are only looking to hang you, and do NOT make ANY comments to ANY of your DOC co-workers about ANYthing you are doing-the Admin. Investigating "blue shirt" snitches are everywhere AND documenting FOR Administration white shirts.
  2. powmda
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    powmda - July 20, 2013 5:38 pm
    This has to be sending tremors through the ranks of the Democrats. Their most reliable source of campaign cash is drying up! This was really what Act 10 was all about. But making union dues voluntary, the unions become very under-funded in about 2-3 years. People simply see no reason to shovel cash at the union bosses, just so said bosses can play power broker in the Democrat Party. And, as the cash flow dribbles down, Democrat politicians no longer leap through their hind parts when there secretary says that the union president is on the phone. "Who? Ah, take a number, I'll get back to him next week or whenever". As the Emperor said to Lord Vader, "Everything is going according to plan.."
  3. JThawke
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    JThawke - July 20, 2013 5:18 pm
    I'm surprised that WSEU is laying off people.

    I thought unions were against layoffs, even it meant a company going broke?
  4. Austin J
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    Austin J - July 20, 2013 10:22 am
    You say that "realize what has happened to the productivity rates over the last 30 year. That is one of the reasons that the middle class is in decline."

    Are you implying that the middle class is worse off because productivity rates have INCREASED during the last 30 years? Or are you just spinning out what your union PR people have told you?

    Productivity increased significantly during that time. From a 2002 Bureau of Labor Statistics study: " Labor productivity in the U.S. manufacturing sector grew continuously over the last half of the 20th century, and this growth accelerated during the 1990s." This corresponds directly with the period of decline for labor unions in the manufacturing sector.


    Don't believe everything your union shills tell you - they're not very good liars, and people are onto them.
  5. aspire
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    aspire - July 20, 2013 8:16 am
    I've worked in several unions but never trained by the union. Except trained to pay union dues.
  6. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - July 20, 2013 7:25 am
    Union hater= powerful wealthy political lobby hater.
  7. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - July 20, 2013 7:25 am
    The governor makes less than John Matthews. The mansion is already paid for. Legislators make the same or less than most teachers. What's your next question?
  8. idunoe
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    idunoe - July 20, 2013 12:02 am
    Some interesting things to ponder here if you will. 1) With the vote totals, all of the people that voted would have to vote for the new union to get certified. I have my doubts about that, so the prison guards may very well go from union represented to not covered. 2) The reason the guards didn't like union was that they couldn't negotiate safety, staffing, other than pay concerns. They still won't, if they get certified. 3) Training. Have any of you heard that we have a skills shortage in Wisconsin? I can assure you in my 40 years in industry that the new advances in manufacturing have not moved forward very much in the last decade. 25-30 years ago it was a far more steep pitch of the learning curve. The unions were great for training their employees. They still are. I have worked with the local Tech colleges, but there is a narrowing of the education to what is now necessary. That is bad because they have to consistently retrain. What used to be a 4 year apprenticeship now is a 2 year apprenticeship and covers a wider range of information, but nowhere near the depth of information. I recently went to a company where the combined average experience was over 7 years but I was training rudimentary troubleshooting skills and training techniques. I attribute this to the decline of unions. We have lost a lot of information, and we are not going to get it back, which is going to make us much more deficient in reacting to any new technologies and skills necessary to assimilate new technologies.

    A lot of you may take joy that it is only over the hourly wage or benefit package received by the union member, but discount what the union member offers the employer. That is covered by the productivity of the worker. Realize what has happened to the productivity rates over the last 30 years. That is one of the reasons that the middle class is in decline.

    As is pointed out in this article is the safety and working conditions of the workers being changed because of Act 10. Do you really want to be alone with a couple of "lifers", in jail with no chance of parole?
  9. arctiva
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    arctiva - July 19, 2013 5:08 pm
    "ACT 10 looks better every day for citizens who need smarter, more cost effective and accountable government" And yet how much money does a governor make? How about a legislator? You did know we the taxpayers are funding a governors mansion that sits empty right? Sure sounds like its working from the bottom up in Wisconsin huh?? Do you think the cuts will ever make it to the top, where some real money can be saved?
  10. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - July 19, 2013 4:26 pm
    In other news, Detroit has declared bankruptcy and the city of Chicago and its Democratic mayor have just moved to cut 2000 school jobs due in part to the onerous union pension model. There are plenty of reasons to vote against Walker, but the union issue is a national one. ACT 10 looks better every day for citizens who need smarter, more cost effective and accountable government. Our next step is to attract good workers for public work, without the abuses of union contracts purchased by union political cash and clout.
  11. schnealy
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    schnealy - July 19, 2013 3:25 pm
    Hey Fritzi, it doesn't matter if their bargaining demands were frivolous or not, because the final say goes to the state.
  12. Cornelius Gotchberg
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    Cornelius Gotchberg - July 19, 2013 2:37 pm

    Not so.

    They spiked ALL my fiercely independent, clearly neutral, keenly unbiased, strongly well-intended and selflessly helpful comments.

    You have a hand in that?

    The Gotch
  13. Bender
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    Bender - July 19, 2013 1:06 pm
    I see the anti -union scum has floated to the top again.

    Union hater = Class traitor
  14. toby
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    toby - July 19, 2013 12:11 pm
    Just think all those deadbeats that are going to be removed from the public work force & are now going to enter the private sector where they are going to learn how real men work.... they can join those construction crews where when you drive by 5 guys are standing around deciding which shovel to use.....isn't it funny how the guy across the street always works less & gets more money & benefits than you do. Do what my blue collar Dad did.He told me "get an education" so you don't end up here "Bucyrus Erie" & spend the rest of your life bitchin about your work life. Best advice I ever got & God Bless his dear departed soul.
  15. Austin J
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    Austin J - July 19, 2013 11:15 am
    Unions only succeed when they have a monopoly, and don't overplay their hand.

    So unions failed in the private sector. They overplayed their hands and competitors came in and underpriced their employers driving them out of business, or overseas and right-to-work states.

    Unions continue to exist in the public sector because they hold a monopoly by definition - there are no competing governments. The problem they brought on to themselves with the public sector is that they took their contributions and used them to fund one political party to the exclusion of all others. Finally, the party they oppose gets into power and acts against them...and why not? They have no constituency with the unions and no reason to do anything to support them. Supporting the unions is only supporting their opposition party.

    The unions don't have anyone to blame for their current situation. They brought it on themselves with poor (REALLY POOR) leadership, short-sightedness, and outlandish demands (think Viagra coverage in Milwaukee, for instance). The taxpayers finally had enough and elected officials who would act against them - twice.
  16. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - July 19, 2013 10:25 am
    that's a nice story...Detroit would like to have a word with you about cause and effect.
  17. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - July 19, 2013 10:22 am
    assuming the Dems follow through with "Tax the rich" ... I would say that yes...yes they are.

    However the wealthy and industry know better then to hitch their wagons to a single party. Most business related lobbying groups play both sides of the aisle.

    The big however here, is that only those that exist because of the good graces of their political brethren will suffer the demise. The unions needed laws to ensure their power. Laws can be changed (obviously)
  18. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - July 19, 2013 10:20 am
    There is no demonstrable cause and effect relationship between the decline in union membership and any decline in the middle class. One of the ways that business convinced their employees to boot their unions is by offering similar wages and fringes, and by paying more attention to their employees. Business has come to see happy employees as a better route to profitability. Thus unions are going the way of the dinosaur.

    The new norm is no unions. Fox News has zero to do with any of this. I know nothing about radio talk shows.
  19. Fritz the Plumber
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    Fritz the Plumber - July 19, 2013 10:05 am
    Hard to feel sorry for these State Employee Unions.Their ridiculous Collective Bargaining demands were frivolous and costly for the State. Their outlandish Health Benefits and Pensions have brought cities and States to their financial knees. Had they stuck to bargaining for wages and benefits they would be viable and stronger than ever ! OVERREACH comes to mind !
  20. Wis_BlogRider
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    Wis_BlogRider - July 19, 2013 9:35 am
    Papa, so now that we have a select group of dictatorial plutocrats running Wisconsin who have decided to become a political engine, are they sealing their fate to suffer the whims of political fallout in 2014?

  21. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - July 19, 2013 9:17 am
    There was a time when unions were necessary. Unethical industrial and financial tycoons were exploiting workers and most American families lived in poverty. The robber barrons hired lobbyists for state and federal tax breaks, subsidies, land grants and many elected representatives were nothing more than puppets.

    The Sherman Anti Trust Act made it it illegal for the barons to limit competition and monpolize a market. Workers began to organize and corporations had to negotiate and the middle class in America became a force.

    Unions gave the middle class a political voice, power in numbers. They contributed to candidates that supported labor and could go dollar to dollar against the barrons. When unions were strong all working Americans propsered.

    Private sector unions are down to about 7% from a high of about 30%. With this 30% to 7% union decline you can draw a direct line in decling wages in the private sector. There's no colletive bargaining, no power in numbers, how's it workin for ya?

    The percentage of people in public unions stayed constant, about 36% during for the same period and did not see the same decline in wages, until recently, when republican governors (puppets) ended their right to collectively bargain.

    What's happening in America today is the same thing that was happening 100 years ago. Markets are monopolized and unethical indutrial and financial billionaires are exploiting American workers. The wealth in the world is concentrating at the top and it wasn't an accident, its by design. Elected officials and judges (puppets) are changing the rules to favor the super rich

    Conditions for workers in the US just keeps getting worse. The new norm is to give workers 90 day contracts, low wages and no health benefits or vacation. Fox and Hate Radio listeners how do you think this is winning? Follow the money.

  22. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - July 19, 2013 9:12 am
    "and its promise to be more responsive to member concerns and possibly less involved in electoral politics"

    This is what unions will have to become...and should become. They got away from being about the workers and focused on becoming powerful through political might...that works until the opposing political power gets full control and can take sweeping actions. Once they decided to become a political engine, they sealed their fate to suffer the whims of political fallout.
  23. TheRestOfTheStory
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    TheRestOfTheStory - July 19, 2013 7:57 am
    In any state, when the majority of the houses are comprised of one party then that party's goals will be realized until they are booted out.
  24. retired
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    retired - July 19, 2013 6:46 am
    Beil, u brought this on yourself. I hope the day of union's hiding the dead beats is over. I would guess, he will drive down the road in a Volkswagen rather than a caddie.
  25. powmda
    Report Abuse
    powmda - July 19, 2013 6:39 am
    The decline of the public unions continues. This situation is following the path of public unions in Indiana. And, now, Michigan is a right-to-work state! The birth place of the union movement is now a right-to-work state! Clearly, even in a left-leaning state, the elected legislators are no longer impressed with the paper tiger power of labor unions, either public or private sector.
  26. nolongerliveinwi
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    nolongerliveinwi - July 19, 2013 5:29 am
    It is a good thing that this union is no longer on the plantation. I hope management can now work with the union for a better work place.
  27. Traderjoe
    Report Abuse
    Traderjoe - July 19, 2013 5:23 am
    More than half the members did not even bother to return the ballots IN THE MAIL ! Wow, I could see a low turnout for in person voting but this is very telling.

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