Wednesday, May 13, 2009


It’s an old song lyric but still true: what a difference a day makes. Like November 4, 2008. It was an historic day nationally with the election of President Obama, but Wisconsin voters also turned the tide at the state level. On that day Republicans lost their long-held majority in the State Assembly. For the first time since 1986, Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s office. The labor movement and progressive allies can now actually enact pro-worker legislation that was opposed and obstructed for more than twenty years.

This seismic shift did not just happen. Union members worked very long and hard in 2008 to turn out the votes for candidates who support working families. Workers voted for change so that we could finally quit playing defense and really make some gains.

We now have the only State Legislature in the country where the leaders of both houses are also union members. Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker is from the Bricklayers union and Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan is from the UAW. The committee appointments are key as well: Sen. Spencer Coggs, chair of the Senate Labor Committee, is an AFSCME member and Rep. Christine Sinicki, chair of the Assembly Labor Committee, has a solid pro-worker record.

There are many examples of a new day but just two of them are: AB 172, a bill requiring that labor history be included in instructional standards for schools, just passed the Assembly; and SB 20, which strengthens the penalties for employment discrimination related to equal pay, age, race and other protected classes, was passed by both houses. The right of collective bargaining for UW System faculty and academic staff is finally moving forward as well.

Union members just participated in a very spirited and successful Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Legislative Conference and Lobby Day—but we know we can never take anything for granted. The mobilization of workers’ strength must continue beyond elections and conferences because the other side does not rest. As labor and Democratic allies try to advance workers interests in Madison, corporate lobbyists cry that business is being treated unfairly. During good times they tell legislators that employers will do what’s best for workers without legislation. In tough times they say that any legislation that benefits workers is a job killer. According to corporate lobbyists, there is never a good time to be on the side of working families.

We need to remind legislators of the efforts of union members on their behalf, hold them accountable for their votes, and urge them to stick with us in these tough times. It’s never been clearer why organized labor and union members must be engaged in the political process. A day does make a difference. It’s a New Day at the Capitol.

Phil Neuenfeldt
Wisconsin State AFL-CIO
Secretary-Treasurer & Legislative Director

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