Wisconsin guards could vote next year on new union
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s prison guards could vote as soon as next year in whether to break away from the Wisconsin State Employees Union.
The vote would culminate a bitter fight over election setbacks, discontent with labor leaders, and anger about working conditions 17 months after the state all but eliminated public sector union rights, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday.
Brian Cunningham, a guard at the Waupun Correctional Institution, said he’s filed more than 1,900 signatures demanding a new union for about 5,800 prison workers, game wardens and other state employees classified as security and public safety workers.
“We tried to change our union from the inside,” Cunningham said. “They didn’t realize there was such a hunger to do what we’re doing.”
An election could be held early next year if the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission verifies that signatures of 30 percent of bargaining unit members have been filed and after union complaints about the process are settled, said Peter Davis, the commission’s general counsel.
WSEU is one of a half-dozen major public employee unions still reeling from the 2011 state law championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker that prohibited almost all collective bargaining for public employees and banned automatic dues collections. WSEU is one of three Wisconsin councils of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union’s dues-paying membership of 22,000 has plummeted to less than 10,000 since the law passed, forcing cuts in organizing staff.
WSEU director Marty Beil said the guards are in for a rude awakening if they succeed in forming an independent union with lower dues and a smaller staff, because they would lack sufficient resources to serve members. He acknowledged that the leaders of the break-away effort are veteran union members, but he said they lack experience in crucial arenas such as the Legislature and the courts.