A governor who will ‘go all Scott Walker’ on Minnesota? No thanks, unions say

UA layout_UA layoutJeff Johnson, the Republican nominee for governor, doesn’t have much executive experience, but the former state legislator provided a glimpse of his leadership style May 15, telling a Tea Party group he would “go all Scott Walker on Minnesota” if elected.

“I don’t know exactly what that means,” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson responded, “but I know it isn’t good.”

Since being sworn into office in January 2011, Walker and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton have taken their states in wholly different directions.

Dayton, a DFLer whose re-election campaign has broad union support, never wavered from his vision for a better Minnesota. He pledged to reverse a trend of dwindling support for public education, balance the state’s budget responsibly by raising taxes on the rich and grow the economy from the middle class out.

Dayton delivered on those promises, with help from pro-worker majorities elected to the Legislature two years ago.

“Gov. Dayton and the DFL majority have created an economy that works better for everyone,” said Eliot Seide, director of the state’s largest union of public employees, AFSCME Council 5. “More Minnesotans are working than ever before. We are the third-best state to make a living. Our economy is the fifth fastest-growing in the nation.”

So what does Johnson see in Walker’s Wisconsin worth replicating here?

To get a sense of what a Johnson administration might mean for union families, we’ll analyze the different approaches taken by Minnesota and Wisconsin on four key issues over the last four years:

• Collective Bargaining. One of Walker’s first moves as governor was to strip most public employees of their bargaining rights. Walker’s so-called “Budget Repair Bill” passed a Republican Legislature despite a series of pro-union protests that drew more than 100,000 to the Capitol in Madison.

“Imagine waking up one day without a contract, without collective bargaining rights, without a voice on the job,” said Eliot Seide, director of the state’s largest union of public employees, AFSCME Council 5. “That’s what happened to AFSCME members in Walker’s Wisconsin, and it could happen here if union members don’t vote.”

Dayton and DFL legislators, by contrast, expanded collective bargaining rights to more Minnesota workers, passing legislation last year that removed barriers to organizing for child-care providers and home-health workers who are paid with public funds.

Already, the new law has extended the benefit of a union to more than 20,000 home-care workers. After voting to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota in August, they currently are negotiating their first union contract with state regulators, marking the first time workers in the low-wage, female-dominated field have had a real voice in the terms of their employment.

“We can’t let Jeff Johnson and his Tea Party extremists take us down Walker’s road to ruin,” Seide warned.

• Education. In addition to slashing teachers’ benefits and bargaining rights, Walker cut state funding for public school districts in Wisconsin by $834 million in his first year in office. That’s roughly the amount of new funding the state has funneled into public schools during Dayton’s four years in office.

Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, called Walker’s first education budget “the largest cut to schools in state history.” With 73 percent school districts in Wisconsin cutting staff or programming as a result of the budget cuts, she added, “our children are paying the price.”

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht, who leads the state’s largest union of school employees, warned that Johnson would lead Minnesota down a similar path.

“Walker has been a disaster for Wisconsin students, so it’s baffling why someone running for office in Minnesota would choose him as a role model,” she said. “Wisconsin is now investing $1,000 less per student than in 2008, which means the Wisconsin workforce will be at a competitive disadvantage for decades.”

Walker also has expanded Wisconsin’s private-school voucher program, which Specht called “out of control.” According to published reports, the voucher program has funneled $139 million from state coffers into failing private schools over the last 10 years – funds that could otherwise have supported public school districts.

Minnesota, meanwhile, is on the opposite track.

As a candidate, Dayton pledged to reverse a decade-long trend of dwindling support for Minnesota’s public schools. With help from pro-worker majorities elected to the Legislature two years ago, he signed bills to repay more than $2 billion borrowed from school districts, reduce class sizes and guarantee statewide access to all-day kindergarten.

That progress is at risk if Johnson is elected governor, Specht said

“If you’re in a working family that cares about the education of your children, there’s something you should know when you hear someone say he wants ‘go all Scott Walker’ on your state,” Specht said. “You should know that is a threat you can’t ignore.”

RLF-GE_Layout 1• Wages and Economic Security. Dayton and DFL legislators earlier this year raised Minnesota’s minimum wage for the first time in a decade, and they passed the Women’s Economic Security Act, a nation-leading initiative to eliminate the gap between what women and men earn for doing comparable work.

Johnson has sent mixed messages about whether, if elected, he would move to block scheduled increases in Minnesota’s minimum wage in 2015 and 2016. But he has pledged to roll back a provision of the law that would trigger automatic increases, tied to the rate of inflation, beginning in 2018.

That stance puts Johnson in line with Walker’s Wisconsin, where median household income has fallen in each of the last four years – and by 5.1 percent since 2009, according to the American Community Survey. Data released last month by the Census Bureau shows Wisconsin’s median household income fell by 0.4 percent between 2012 and 2013, to $51,467.

Minnesota, meanwhile, saw a 1.6 percent increase in household income between 2012 and 2013, to $60,702. It marked the state’s second consecutive year of significant income growth.

Given the growing disparities between the two states, it’s no surprise workers in Wisconsin are looking west with envy.

“Wisconsin is dead last in the Midwest in job growth,” Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt said. “Wisconsin is missing out on economic opportunities and growth because Gov. Walker refuses to raise the minimum wage for workers or accept federal funds to expand health care access. Wisconsin workers make $5,000 less a year than Minnesota workers. Wisconsin workers can’t afford four more years of Gov. Walker.”

• Taxes and Economic Growth. Walker’s approach to economic growth is narrow: lure businesses to Wisconsin with tax cuts, incentives and “Open for Business” signs along the border. But as Bloomingdale notes, “tax cuts for the rich and rewarding out-of-state donors has gotten Wisconsin nowhere.”

Indeed, Wisconsin has been slower to recover from the Great Recession than Minnesota. Wisconsin’s per-capita Gross Domestic Product has increased just 3.4 percent since 2010, compared to 5.1 percent growth in Minnesota.

Why? Dayton and DFL legislators have taken a broad, long-range approach to job creation, investing in education, job training and infrastructure, and backing public-private ventures like the Mall of America expansion, the Vikings stadium and Rochester’s Destination Medical Center.

Walker declined federal funding to build a high-speed rail line through his state. And Wisconsin continues to fall behind in infrastructure investments, with 71 percent of the state’s roads in poor or mediocre condition, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, compared to 52 percent of Minnesota roads.

“Gov. Dayton and House DFLers have Minnesota on the right path,” St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper said. “We can’t afford to let Jeff Johnson turn us around.”

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