Gov. Scott Walker’s definitive victory in Wisconsin’s recall election already is reverberating in other state capitals. It exposed the shrunken political muscle of the unions that tried to oust him, underscoring their vulnerability to attacks from the right and inability to retaliate.
Republicans in some nearby states where anti-union measures failed this year say they now plan to use Walker’s victory to mount renewed efforts in 2013.
Instead of ejecting the Republican who slashed state and local government workers’ job benefits and bargaining rights, the union-instigated recall has made Walker a heroic model for conservatives five months before the November election.
“I think it’s bad news for the labor movement,” said John Russo, a labor-studies professor at Youngstown State University. “It gives the impression they are not as strong as they once were, which they are not.”
Labor leaders maintain that the fight was worth it, that the massive protests against Walker and bitter divisions it created will make other governors and legislators think twice before making similar forays against unions.
But Walker’s victory is encouraging Republicans in other states to push ahead with their own efforts to curtail unions’ power and chop away at the benefits gained for their members over the years.
GOP lawmakers in states such as Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and New Hampshire are likely to push harder for right-to-work legislation or other measures that restrict automatic union-dues collection.
No labor fight had so captivated Americans since President Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 air-traffic controllers for illegally striking in 1981, a move that encouraged businesses to take tougher stands against unions and helped precipitate a steep decline in union membership.
“I consider it bigger than the air-traffic controllers,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “I think it’s going to embolden employers in bargaining and discourage workers from joining unions. I think it’s hitting unions on all fronts.”