WSJ Doesn't Think Anti-Union Law Has Anything To Do With Membership Decline

The Wall Street Journal pushed the false notion that unions are irrelevant and workers have no interest in joining them, all while ignoring the impact an anti-union state law has had on membership numbers.

On September 18, the WSJ editorial board continued its pretense that union membership decline is due to the unpopularity of collective bargaining, as opposed to the impact of Republican anti-labor legislation. From the September 18 editorial:

One of 2011's biggest political stories was the conflagration in Wisconsin over Governor Scott Walker's plans to reform the state's relationship with public employee unions. Two years later the fires have ebbed. Reason? Many union members are deciding there's little point in belonging to a union.

Witness the city of Kenosha. This month the Kenosha Education Association was decertified after it missed a deadline in the certification process, eliminating its ability to bargain for wages. That was the latest in a series of similar decisions by teachers-union members to jettison union representation. In 2011 and 2012, some 13% of 207 Wisconsin school districts and 39 municipal and state units were decertified.


A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state affiliate of the NEA, said recently, “It seems like the majority of our affiliates in the state aren't seeking recertification, so I don't think the [Kenosha union] is an outlier or unique.”

That's a remarkable repudiation of union representation in a state long considered a stronghold. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that since Mr. Walker's union reforms became law, state unions have lost tens of thousands of members, as workers opt to drop out of the union.

But the teachers union in Kenosha (the KEA) was not decertified because the majority of the teachers decided to “jettison” the union. In fact, the union says there was no recertification election at all and "[t]he union exists with or without a recertification vote."

According to the KEA, the union decided not to seek recertification because Act 10, a highly restrictive piece of anti-union legislation signed into law by Walker in 2011, requires an “annual, cost-prohibitive election with a threshold higher than that to elect the president of the United States.” The KEA also says that there's “a state ruling in effect that holds Act 10 unconstitutional, and our members are confident that will be upheld.”

The KEA was decertified after parts of the challenged law, including the annual certification election provision, were upheld by a federal judge just last week.

These unnecessarily complicated and legally questionable hurdles that have been raised between workers and unionization appear to be the precise intent of Act 10. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the bar was raised specifically for unions:

To keep an official status, the unions will have to meet a much higher standard in their vote than state elected officials have to meet to win their offices - getting 51% of the vote of all the members of their bargaining unit, not just the ones who take the time to cast ballots. They also will have to win the vote again every year or their union will cease to function and be unable to win official recognition for at least a year after that.

Furthermore, the WSJ's repeated claim that workers are choosing to “drop out” of unions because they are irrelevant is pure fiction. In actuality, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, the majority of nonunionized American workers “would vote for union representation if they could,” largely because of their desire for “greater collective say at the workplace than they had. Moreover, most workers thought that greater representation and voice to employees at their workplace would be good for their firm as well as for them.” The decline in union membership, then, is not due to a lack of interest, but rather an increasing number of legislative obstacles.

Against this hostile backdrop, it makes sense that unions might question the wisdom of engaging in an annual recertification battle. The statement of Cristina Brey, spokesperson for the WEAC cited by the WSJ, conveyed as much. Despite the WSJ's mischaracterization of Brey's comments as "a remarkable repudiation of union representation," they were actually made in the context of how Walker's bill negatively impacts union membership and the recertification process. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Christina Brey ... downplayed recertification, calling it just another hoop for local unions to jump through.

Unions can exist without certification, but [because of Act 10] they cannot bargain for limited base-wage increases with the [school] district. And there are fees involved with chasing recertification.


[Brey] added that certification gives the union scant power over a limited number of issues they'd like a voice in.

If anything, Brey's comments could more accurately be described as a repudiation of Walker's bill. The majority of Wisconsin state employee unions have decided to forgo the recertification process, instead directing their resources to new organization and advocacy efforts.

This new approach is not, as the WSJ editorial board has now asserted twice in one week, because unions are a workplace scourge. The WSJ ought to give credit where it's due -- to Republican lawmakers and a new set of legal barriers that unions are now forced to overcome.