The issue over collective bargaining, specifically in the public sector, has taken center stage in Wisconsin over the past year. Act 10, a piece of legislation originally designed to cut state spending, instead targeted unions and public workers’ collective bargaining rights. The bill would strip public workers, with the exception of firefighters and police officers, of all collective bargaining rights regarding healthcare, vacation, workplace safety conditions and other benefits, while only allowing wages to increase with the increase in inflation. The bill caused widespread protests; all 14 Democratic senators fled the state in order to delay voting on the bill, and 930,000 signatures were collected calling for a recall election for the governor.
Fortunately, a county judge ruled on Sept. 14 that the legislation was unconstitutional on the grounds that it infringed upon the workers’ right to free speech as well as association, and that it violated equal protection laws for workers. The irony behind this bill lies in the fact that Wisconsin was one of the more progressive states regarding collective bargaining rights and unionization.
The very passage of this sort of bill is quite unnerving. Collective bargaining is an essential tool in today’s work force, and it should be a right for both private and public workers. It grants workers who are members of unions the right to negotiate with their employers over essential terms of employment including their wages, job safety policies, benefits, leave, hours and much more. By granting the worker a voice, it grants them much more control over a major part of their life, and in the words of the Supreme Court of Canada on this issue in 2007, “it is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government.” Unions positively impact not only workers, but also society as a whole by helping to equalize income distribution; something desperately needed in America today.