Implications of Wisconsin Recall Vote on Public Sector Unions


By: Jason Mitchell
Governor Scott Walker survived June 5th’s recall vote by a margin of 7% or roughly 173,00 votes.  Because public sector union rights played an important role in the recall campaign, the outcome likely will carry significant implications for public sector unions in Wisconsin and, potentially, elsewhere in the United States.
Since legislation that, among other things, limited the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions was passed last year, public sector union membership in Wisconsin has declined sharply.  For example, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which is the largest and fastest growing public services employees’ union in the nation, saw its Wisconsin membership decline by 55% over the past year.
Similarly, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a teachers’ union, has seen its membership drop from around 90,000 to 70,000.  These numbers appear to represent a departure from a trend in Wisconsin toward public sector union membership at the expense of private sector unions.  In fact, as of 2010, 36.2% of public workers were unionized while only 6.9% of private workers paid union dues.
Because the bargaining rights of public sector unions were central to the campaign, the race may have been an indication of  the role these unions will play in Wisconsin.  Given the outcome, it is reasonable to expect a continued decline in public sector union membership in Wisconsin.  The vote may also prompt other states to enact legislation similar to that enacted by Wisconsin in 2011.  If so, the vote may have similar implications for unions in other states as well.