Wisconsin Hits Labor, Repro Rights in Single Blow

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wisconsin's new law against collective bargaining by public-sector workers is another front in the mass attack on reproductive rights, since unions pioneered such things as contraceptive health coverage, now considered politically vulnerable.

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Similar Battles Looming

No other governor has taken such a hard line on restricting benefits for reproductive health as Walker, but similar epic battles may be looming in Indiana, Ohio and Idaho, where all three anti-choice governors are grappling with massive budget deficits caused by the recession.

"Gov. Walker and conservative state legislators are out to do more than bust the public sector unions," said Amy Stear, Wisconsin director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, the national organization of low-income women based in Milwaukee. "They are determined to deny the American dream to teachers, nurses and others who are the backbone of the middle class by eliminating a wide range of benefits."

Stear says employers in the private sector may also eliminate health, child care and other benefits that women need to work.

"This would be a disaster for families in cities like Milwaukee, where unemployment among 18-to-45 year old African American men ranges from 45 to 60 percent and the women's wages barely cover the rent," she said.

Walker, who was elected in November when Republicans gained control of the legislature, claimed that curbing the power of public-sector unions was necessary to help the state overcome the $137 million hole in the current budget and the $3.6 billion deficit projected for the next biennial budget.

National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the United States, disagrees. The union, based in Washington, D.C., is running a publicity campaign that stresses that workers are not responsible for the fiscal problems of states like Wisconsin.

The nurses distributed flyers at rallies at the Wisconsin Capitol showing that two-thirds of Wisconsin corporations pay no taxes and that the share of state revenues from corporation taxes have fallen by half since 1981.

The showdown in Wisconsin has galvanized and energized the labor movement, said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research for Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations in Ithaca, N.Y., in a telephone interview.

"Wisconsin was the first state to give collective bargaining to public sector workers in 1959, so workers in other states realize that if this can happen in Wisconsin, it can happen anywhere," she said. "As a result, unions in the private and public sectors are going to take a more active role in the political process."


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Sharon Johnson is a New York-based freelance writer.

For more information:

Statement on the Budget Repair Bill Proposal (JR ISB 11), University of Wisconsin System Women's Studies Consortium, March 2011:

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin:

NARAL Pro-Choice America:

9to5, National Association of Working Women:

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