A June 27 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court helped bring Wisconsin police and firefighter unions closer to parity with the state’s other public-sector unions, but a major disparity remains—they still can collectively bargain.
The Supreme Court ruling prevents public-sector unions nationwide from forcing nonmembers to pay dues. The ruling didn’t affect many of Wisconsin’s public-sector unions because Act 10, adopted seven years ago, ended the practice of public-sector unions collecting dues from nonmembers.
But Act 10 as engineered by Gov. Scott Walker exempted police and fire unions. The exemption was politically motivated and unfair in our opinion because all unions should have to prove their worth to their members.
Part of the exemption—the ability to collect dues from non-members—was rolled back by the June 27 ruling. A big part—the ability to collectively bargain—remains.
It’s time to end it.
Local fire and police unions told The Gazette they are confident the June 27 ruling won’t cause them to lose members. Their members see value in their unions. Janesville police officers, for example, pay about $45 a month in union dues, a small price considering the union provides officers with legal protection against civil or criminal legal action. With so many people eager to accuse an officer of misconduct, an officer nowadays can hardly afford to forgo union protection.
But a big and costly benefit police and fire unions still enjoy is the ability to collectively bargain, which drives up labor costs for municipalities and, ultimately, taxpayers.
Act 10 has saved Wisconsin taxpayers millions of dollars. A 2016 study by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and League of Wisconsin Municipalities indicated cities and towns had saved up to $100 million. A bulk of those savings, between $60 million and $70 million, had come from employees contributing more money to their retirements.
Union protesters in 2011 flooded Madison in an attempt to block Act 10’s passage. They failed, and Wisconsin taxpayers should be thankful.
But Act 10 had a flaw that makes it unfair—it exempted police and fire unions from its effects. The recent Supreme Court ruling brings public-sector unions closer to parity, but work remains.
As we have written in this space before, at some point, the Legislature should revisit extending Act 10 to all public sector unions to prevent disparities in pay among government workers and boost savings to taxpayers.