The real problem for the unions, however, was that Walker's reforms deprived public employee unions from having union dues deducted automatically from covered employees' salaries. Under the old rules, teachers and other public employees who were covered by a union contract had dues taken directly out of their paychecks by their employers and handed over to the unions, without their having given affirmative consent. After the new law passed, public employees had to sign up to have their dues collected -- and many decided not to.
Public employee union membership in Wisconsin plummeted as a result. According to the Wall Street Journal, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees lost more than half its members statewide, from 62,818 members in March 2011 to only 28,745 in February 2012. Teachers unions were hard hit as well, with the American Federation of Teachers losing 6,000 of its 17,000 members in the last 15 months.
It's no wonder given these numbers that so many union households ended up deserting their union leaders on Election Day. The real lesson is that Big Labor can no longer count on marshaling its members to turn out and vote as union leaders direct. The labor movement has gotten fat and lazy on mandatory membership, employers' collecting union dues, and promising more than can be reasonably delivered, like fat pensions for life.
And public employee unions, which have been the only segment of organized labor that has grown in decades as private union membership dwindled to only 6.9 percent of the workforce, are now going to have to face the music as well. Unions can't count on their members, especially when those 'members' can choose not to belong.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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