As Wisconsin legislators debated a proposal to strip Wisconsin’s state workers of their collective bargaining rights – a proposal that drew an intervention from the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, reminding them that long-established Church teaching defends the right of workers to organize in labor unions – the opposite was happening at the federal level.
In February Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief John Pistole issued a memorandum permitting collective bargaining for TSA employees. Beginning today, over 40,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) will have the option to vote if they want to be represented by a union – and if so, by which union (two unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, are on the ballot).
Collective bargaining for federal employees is a different matter than it is in many states. Negotiations are generally limited to working conditions and personnel practices. TSOs say they want a union to combat arbitrary actions by supervisors, calling for a more transparent system of performance evaluations and a grievance procedure that will put an end to selective discipline.
Milwaukee’s Archbishop Listecki acknowledged that Wisconsin’s state employees "must work for the common good [and] make sacrifices when required,” but insisted nevertheless that "hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers." The Obama administration threaded a similar needle at the federal level by imposing a two-year wage freeze for federal employees while extending union rights for TSOs. Since Wisconsin state employee unions have offered to accept the governor’s economic demands in exchange for preserving collective bargaining rights, a compromise that meets Wisconsin's budget emergency while "preserving the legitimate rights of workers" is on the table there, if the legislators choose to take it up.
UPDATE 10 March 2010: Last night the Wisconsin Senate majority decisively rejected such a compromise by voting to strip Wisconsin's workers of most of their union rights.