With a large state budget deficit and political scandals compromising both parties, the Wisconsin Capitol is not a place most state legislators would like to be these days.
On April 30, the Capitol became even more interesting as UE members came to town to demand action to save manufacturing jobs.
Those attending the fourth annual Wisconsin UE Political Action Day met with Gov. Scott McCallum and with at least one of their lawmakers.
The meeting with the governor emphasized the plight of the state’s manufacturing sector. Since 1994 Wisconsin residents – UE members among them – have lost more than 55,000 factory jobs paying decent wages. UE District Eleven Pres. Carl Rosen declared, "We’ve got a problem – and we’ve got alternatives."
Gov. McCallum, described by participants as friendly and respectful, asserted that he saw eye-to-eye with the union. "Manufacturing is an important part of our economy," he told UE members.
But union members discovered that the governor’s approach and their program were not a match.
The UE program called for state assistance in identifying warning signs of job loss, revamping state economic development schemes, low-interest loans to in-state manufacturers, coordination of job training and vocational programs, and creation of a state-administered health insurance plan, among other proposals.
The governor’s solution seemed limited to cutting taxes on business. "We have to be competitive," McCallum insisted.
UE members countered that they can’t be "competitive" when forced to compete against workers who have no choice but to work for almost nothing.
Bob Granum, Local 1111, pointed out that many large companies, including his employer, Rockwell, have received millions of dollars from the State in corporate welfare while slashing good manufacturing jobs. He insisted on greater accountability from state government.
In the meeting with Gov. McCallum, as in meetings with legislators, the UE members raised the demand that the federal government address the manufacturing crisis. Union members pointed out how federal policies, including tax law, have encouraged the movement of production offshore.
‘ISN’T THAT ILLEGAL?’
Local 1112 leaders raised with the governor a scandal of a different kind. As Pres. James Byrd and Vice Pres. Sandi Jaskie challenged McCallum to assist their co-workers at Wisconsin Die Casting in Milwaukee in regaining monies taken by a former owner. "Isn’t that illegal?" the governor asked when he heard their story of financial irregularities. "Governor, apparently nothing is illegal anymore," Byrd replied.
Martha Kerner, executive assistant to Commerce Sec. Phil Albert, attended the meeting.
Not long after the meeting, attendees received follow-up letters from the Commerce Secretary and Insurance Commissioner – evidence that the Governor was paying attention.
The UE Political Action Day began in the offices of State Sen. Gwen Moore, who hosted the union delegation. Her legislative director, Leanne Bergstrom, gave UE members a briefing. UE Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend reviewed the union’s program.
In meetings with legislators, UE members raised their concerns with the health care crisis and bankruptcy law as well as the need to save manufacturing jobs.
Among those meeting with the UE delegation was State Rep. Pedro Colon, whose south Milwaukee district includes the Allen-Bradley plant. Daphne Jackson, a Local 1125 delegate (ABQC) who lives in Colon’s district, and took the opportunity for a discussion with him on workers’ issues. Vigorous discussions took place with a number of lawmakers.
Also, four teams dropped off copies of the UE program to more 140 legislators.