The Wisconsin recall election stems from Governor Scott Walkers’ plan to neutralize unions — or collective bargaining — in the state. But what is collective bargaining?
Some background: Anger over Walker and his hyper-conservative, Tea Party agenda began building almost as soon as he took office in January 2011. Just a month into his term, Walker proposed to effectively end collective bargaining (union) rights for most state workers, setting off a fire storm of protests. The recall idea emerged soon thereafter.
Collective bargaining is a process of negotiations between employers and a group of employees aimed at reaching agreements that regulate working conditions. In politics, a conservative stance views the collective bargaining tactics of state unions (i.e. police, health care, state employees) as counter to free market principles. These collective bargaining tactics cheat taxpayers, the conservative thought goes, as they artificially inflate salaries and prices, which citizens then unjustly pay for.
Political unions contend that they exist to protect workers' writers. Wealthy "bosses" can no longer manipulate citizens or their salaries.
The collective agreements reached by these negotiations usually set out wage scales, working hours, training, health and safety, overtime, grievance mechanisms and rights to participate in workplace or company affairs.
A collective agreement functions as a labor contract between an employer and one or more unions.
The effort to recall Walker officially began on November 15, 2011. In less than half the time allotted to collect signatures, recall organizers collected more than 500,000 signatures, leaving roughly one month left to collect the remaining 40,000 signatures needed to force a recall vote.
On January 17, United Wisconsin, the coalition that spearheaded the recall effort along with the Democratic Party, said that one million signatures were collected, which far exceeds the 540,208 needed, and amounts to 23 percent of the state’s eligible voters, 46 percent of the total votes cast in the 2010 gubernatorial election, and just shy of the 1.1 million votes earned by Walker.
In about 30 states, public unions have the right to collectively bargain. Virginia and Texas prohibit formal collective bargaining with public employees and many other states are considering making changes in regards to collective bargaining.
Wisconsin election officials are predicting that 60% to 65% of the voting age population, or about 2.6 million to 2.8 million people, will cast ballots in the recall election. The statewide predicted turnout would be higher than the 49.7% who voted in the 2010 gubernatorial general election, in which Walker beat Barrett by nearly 6 percentage points. But it would not be as high as the 2008 general election for president, when some 69.2% of eligible Wisconsinites turned out to vote.