Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is now officially up for a recall election in June, a showdown that is commanding far more attention in Wisconsin than today's Republican presidential primary. Given that it was his frontal assault on the state's public employee unions that prompted last year's backlash protests against him and the recall movement, you'd think that all organized labor in the state -- and especially all public employee unions -- would be lining up at the barricades against him, right?
Wrong. I just came across this report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which offered a healthy reminder that things this campaign year are not necessarily going to be breaking as cleanly between the working men and women and the plutocrats as Democrats might like to imagine:
Two unions that were largely spared from Gov. Scott Walker's curbs on collective bargaining endorsed him Monday.
Walker is facing a recall this summer because of his successful plan to all but eliminate collective bargaining for most public workers. Walker's plan mostly left alone police officers and firefighters, and the unions representing Milwaukee cops and Milwaukee firefighters renewed their support for him Monday. The two were some of the only unions to endorse Walker when he initially ran in November 2010.
“Governor Walker has a strong record of supporting public safety with an unwavering commitment to first responders,” said a statement from Michael Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association. “Today, we are proud to announce our support for Governor Walker’s reelection.”
Well, there you go. Given how big and scary organized labor is made out to be by Republicans, the unions who comprise that army sure are easy to pick off. You have to hand it to Walker, whose decision to exempt cops and firefighters -- the most popular of the public employee sectors -- stands in contrast to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who went for the whole shebang with his move against organized labor, and was made to pay for it with some remarkably effective (irresponsible?) TV ads suggesting that his reforms would lead to slower emergency response times and untimely deaths. The irony, of course, is that arguably excessive union contracts, or abuses of contracts, are more likely to be found among police and firefighters than most other public employee sectors -- see, among many other examples, the cops of Yonkers, N.Y., where 100 police and fire retirees are collecting pensions greater than their pay when they were working, or of Montgomery County, Md., where, between 2000 and 2007, 41 percent of police officers retired with extra-generous disability benefits (chasing robbers in Bethesda is a real back-breaker.)
But Walker was savvy enough to know that, whatever the relative generosity of police and fire contracts vis a vis those of teachers and officer workers, it was better to cut the men in blue a break. Though his reforms could come at some cost for even those in uniform, noted Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, which represents police officers everywhere in the state but Milwaukee -- cops and firefighters, he noted to the Journal Sentinel, lost some ability to negotiate over aspects of their health care, and, the paper reports, "some police agencies are now threatening to set health-care deductibles of as much as $10,000 if police unions do not agree to concessions."
Palmer, the paper added, "said he didn't understand how the Milwaukee unions could endorse Walker given that change in state law." But even that aspect of the law aside, it is remarkable that Walker's move against labor has not sparked a more airtight union front against him. Yes, police and firefighters have historically been more Republican-leaning than other unionized workers. But still -- if the sight of their union brothers and sisters being pilloried for contract terms that are arguably less generous than their own was not enough to spur total solidarity, it's awfully hard to see how Walker, backed by his millions in out of state cash, goes down in the recall. And it's likewise easy to see why the Obama campaign and the Democrats ought not to grow complacent about their prospects in places where one would assume a backlash in their favor.
follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis