The Wisconsin Labor Union Battle’s Implications For New York

One in Four New York Workers are Union Members

New York has closely followed Wisconsin's political battle concerning the power of labor unions - with good reason. Wisconsin has long been at the nation's forefront in unionization and employment reform. In fact, "The Dairy State" was the first state to enact a workers' compensation law when Gov. Francis E. McGovern signed its passage 100 years ago, in 1911.

Because of Wisconsin's storied tradition of progressively establishing workers' rights, New York is keeping close tabs on how the partisan conflict plays out. Often seen as the workers' rights benchmark, Wisconsin could cause a 'domino effect' if there's a dramatic change in the strength of Wisconsin's labor unions: prompting other states to scale back on public union power as well. A brief summary of the controversial legislative slugfest reveals how the implications could be far-reaching.

Wisconsin's Union Battle

Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, was recently elected governor in a dramatic change from the preceding eight years where Democrat Jim Doyle served in that role. Walker is attempting to give effect to legislation that the Wisconsin Senate controversially voted in favor of in the past weeks. That legislation would, amongst other things, eliminate Wisconsin public union's rights to collectively bargain with their government employers.

Although Walker regards the bill as budget-balancing in nature, such a law would purpose a monumental shift in the state's government workforce climate while simultaneously injuring the state's Democratic Party's ability to generate campaigning funds from historically powerful unions such as the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC).

Because of the stakes involved, 14 state senators fled to Illinois to prevent the senate from achieving the requisite quorum needed to pass the legislation. Meanwhile, pro-union forces throughout Wisconsin and the U.S. fled to Madison and protested Walker's bill. The Republican-led senate altered the bill, lowering the quorum voting requirements, and passed it. This procedure opened up a new debate on the legalities of the process.

A Dane County Circuit Court judge issued a temporary restraining order, momentarily halting the law's effect. The legislative process will be further scrutinized in court and the legal system may ultimately determine the bill's fate.

What This Means for New York Unions

Many New Yorkers voiced their support for Wisconsin protestors by staging their own rally at New York City Hall. The concern is that Walker's bill will have a snowball effect on collective bargaining across the country, eventually eroding union strength in New York. The apprehension is legitimate enough that New York's own politicians have voiced concerns: Congressman Anthony Weiner stated that labor unions are "under siege" across the U.S.

The greater concern is that both New York and the federal government will trend toward reducing workers' benefits and welfare programs, including workers' compensation and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Union advocates proclaim that such actions would eliminate the nation's middle class.

While the future remains clouded in uncertainty, qualified New York workers are presently entitled to a variety of benefits when they suffer a workplace injury. Gaining full entitlement to benefits can be difficult; however, an experienced workers' comp attorney can help.