Letters seek window signs supporting collective bargaining
By Don Walker of the Journal Sentinel
Members of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, have begun circulating letters to businesses in southeast Wisconsin, warning that they will face a boycott if they don’t support collective bargaining for public employee unions.
The letters ask businesses to express that support by displaying union signs in their windows.
“Failure to do so will leave us no choice but (to) do a public boycott of your business,” the letter says. “And sorry, neutral means ‘no’ to those who
work for the largest employer in the area and are union members.”
Jim Parrett, a field representative of Council 24 for Southeast Wisconsin, confirmed the contents of the letter, which carries his signature. But he added that the union was also circulating letters to businesses thanking them for supporting workers’ rights.
The union-led effort is an outgrowth of a boycott campaign by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and other unions in which M&I Bank and Kwik Trip were targeted because either the companies themselves or their executives supported Gov. Scott Walker’s budget initiatives.
Jim Haney, the outgoing head of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, a pro-business lobby, said the union effort was appalling. And he said the campaign would backfire.
“It’s kind of like the old protection racket,” he said. “ ’If you have the right sticker, we won’t break your knees.’ This is beyond the pale to force a small-business person to choose when they want to stay neutral. But that isn’t good enough.”
In the letter, Parrett writes: “It is unfortunate that you have chosen ‘not’ to support public workers rights in Wisconsin. In recent past weeks you have been offered a sign by a public employee who works in one of the state facilities in the Union Grove area. These signs simply said, ‘This Business Supports Workers Rights,’ a simple, subtle and we feel noncontroversial statement given the facts at this time.”
Parrett said that since the letters were sent, he has received threatening phone calls as well as calls from people supporting the state workers.
“I’ve gotten a lot of threatening phone calls,” Parrett said.
Parrett said similar letter campaigns had been launched in other parts of the state. His region includes Racine and Kenosha counties as well as parts of Waukesha and Walworth counties.
Parrett referred questions to Marty Beil, the head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. Neither Beil nor Phil Neuenfeldt, head of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, was available for comment.
Workers’ dollars at stake
Parrett said a number of WSEU locals in his region represent more than 1,300 union workers who have a combined yearly income of more than $56 million.
“The recent actions taken on the governor’s budget-repair bill have taken more from workers than dollars. It took away our right to bargain things such as: sick leave and how it is used, vacation and how it is used, overtime and how it is ‘fairly’ distributed. Our grievance procedure has been virtually destroyed. These are things that make life working in a 24/7 facility tolerable,” Parrett wrote.
The letter adds: “State employees fully expect to take some lumps financially in these tough economic times. . . . But don’t take away rights to what has kept workplace peace for half a century and has worked well.”
Terri Gray, executive director of the Union Grove Chamber of Commerce, said she had received many calls from member businesses about the union-led effort. She said most of the calls came from business people who preferred to remain neutral in the dispute.
“They don’t want to pick a side,” she said. “I told them, ‘I believe you can choose to not choose.’ ”
Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said his coalition’s boycott efforts were buoyed by a statement made by David Galloway, chairman of the board of BMO Financial, the group that is acquiring M&I Bank. Galloway has said that he supported collective bargaining.
“That’s progress,” Palmer said.
Palmer said Kwik Trip never responded to his group.
Asked Wednesday about the boycott effort, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told Journal Sentinel reporters and editors in a teleconference “that any nonviolent tactic used to get attention to the steamroller tactics it seems to me are reasonable. I encourage people to remain nonviolent and disciplined in their protests.”
Asked if he supported boycott efforts in Wisconsin, Jackson did not directly endorse them.
He said: “The best way to resolve conflict is when everybody is at the table and they can negotiate through some rational institutional process.”