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Unions’ recall race snub surprised Cullen

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STANLEY B. MILAM
February 23, 2012
— During a recent lunch at a downtown Janesville restaurant, constituents several times interrupted State Sen. Tim Cullen’s meal.

They urged him to continue fighting for union rights in Wisconsin.


Cullen replied that he would.


But his pledge is not acceptable to the two most powerful unions in Wisconsin.


The Wisconsin Education Association Council and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 24 Wisconsin State Employees Union chose not to support Cullen in his run to be the Democratic candidate to oppose Walker in a recall election.


Why?


The reason, Cullen said, was that he would not pledge, if elected governor, to veto any state budget that did not contain restoration of collective bargaining rights.


“It’s irresponsible to commit to a veto like that when you have no idea what would or would not be included in the budget,” Cullen said. “That’s a $60 billion, 1,500-page document.”


Cullen and other Democrats late last year were called to a union endorsement panel that’s been referred to as the “College of Cardinals.” Several state unions were represented on the panel, but WEAC and WSEU were the largest.


“It was a cordial session, but the big issue was the budget veto,” Cullen said. “My answer was not what they wanted to hear.”


His position on a veto doomed his chances for an endorsement, Cullen said.


“I didn’t go in there thinking I was entitled to their endorsement,” Cullen said, “but I didn’t think I had to beg for it.”


Cullen pulled out of the race shortly after the union endorsement session.


Two Democrats say they are candidates. Former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma could force a Democratic primary.


One other Democrat, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, has been mentioned as a possible candidate. Barrett has not announced his intentions.


Falk has been endorsed by WEAC and WSEU. The Gazette was not able to reach WEAC President Mary Bell or WSEU Executive Director Marty Beil for comments on their endorsements.


Cullen, the son of a General Motors Janesville autoworker, said he has been a longtime and consistent union supporter:


-- He was instrumental in eliminating a one-week waiting period for unemployment compensation benefits shortly after his first term began in the state Senate in 1975.


-- He was the lead author and floor leader of the historic binding arbitration law of 1978 that outlawed teacher strikes in favor of binding arbitration if teachers and school boards could not agree on contracts.


-- As the majority leader in 1983, Cullen was successful in preventing implementation of a one-week waiting period to receive an unemployment check. Preventing the waiting period was a bottom line issue for organized labor.


-- A few years later, Cullen pushed through training funds for GM workers and an Interstate 90/39 interchange for the Janesville GM plant. The training funds and interchange were credited with preserving jobs at the Janesville plant at the time.


Cullen said he does not regret assistance he gave unions over the years, but he was disappointed with Bell and Beil.


“I was extremely disappointed by their actions,” Cullen said. “What hurt me the most was how they both made unilateral decisions regarding the endorsements. If rank and file members were asked, I think I would have received a lot more support. I was railroaded by a couple of union leaders who were not representing their members.”


Despite the snub by WEAC and WSEU unions, the desire to serve remains, Cullen said.


“When I announced I was dropping out of the race for governor, I had no intention of announcing anything else,” he said. “But, when a reporter asked me if I intended to run for another Senate term, I answered his question. Yes, I will seek re-election in 2014.


“I know I can make a difference, despite the unfavorable partisan climate in the Capitol. I can’t imagine what I would do, if I’m not serving in some capacity.”


And whom is Cullen endorsing in the recall race?


“I will endorse the Democratic candidate,” he said.



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