The state of Wisconsin made headlines in February as its Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl on February 8.
A few weeks later, the cheese state made headlines again as Republican Governor Scott Walker was setting the stage for a battle on the working class. While much of what has transpired in Wisconsin has not garnered a lot of media attention in Canada, we should take note and understand what is transpiring. These events have a very strong possibility of unfolding here in Canada.
Wisconsin has been a strong Democratic state for 20 plus years. On February 11, Walker proposed a budget repair bill that would save the state an estimated $30 million in the current fiscal year and $300 million over the next two years. The bill would require additional contributions by state and local government workers to their health care plans and pensions, amounting to roughly an eight per cent decrease in the average worker’s take home pay. The bill also would eliminate, for government workers, most collective bargaining rights except for wages. Unions would be unable to seek pay increases, for government workers, above the rate of inflation, unless approved by a voter referendum. Under the bill, unions would have to win yearly votes to continue representing government workers, and could no longer have dues deducted from government workers’ pay cheques. Law enforcement personnel and firefighters would be exempt from the bargaining changes.
What happened next was a ground swell of support. Labour leaders from across North America rallied Wisconsin’s capital building to protest. Firefighters, police, members of the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl team all joined in the rally for the public sector workers who understood the meaning of “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
By now, you are probably asking yourself, “How does this affect me working in Manitoba?” It’s a fair question. We have been fortunate to have strong labour laws in this province under the current government. But we only have to look to our neighbours in Saskatchewan, who voted in a new government led by Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party. Under Premier Wall, labour rights have taken a back seat to pro-business beliefs. The labour board has dragged out the certification of the Walmart in Weyburn Saskatchewan- a process that has gone on since 2004.
Our province is the envy of many across North America with our fair labour laws. We are fortunate to have improved health and safety legislation and alternative dispute resolution, which we recently used for the striking workers at Malteurop to get them back to work after an 83-day strike. Without this legislation, these workers would still be walking a picket line.
While some people say that change is good, I believe, in this case, change could be hurtful to working people. The rights and freedoms we currently enjoy could be stripped away with one bad choice at the ballot box. Before we vote, let’s have a close look at how the political parties would change Manitoba’s fair labour laws.
Robert Ziegler is President of Local 832 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.