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UE Walks Wisconsin's
Capitol Halls

UE Political Action Day in Wisconsin


Twenty-four delegates from seven UE locals in Wisconsin gathered in the state capital on May 25 for the state’s first UE Political Action Day in many years.

The delegates had face-to-face meetings with a number of state legislators, generally receiving a good reception from their presentation of UE’s "New Priorities" program for Wisconsin. Lawmakers made a firm commitment to back the union on issues of concern to working people in Wisconsin. In particular, delegates from Local 1193 returned to their jobs at St. Mary’s Nursing Home in Milwaukee with pledges from legislators that they would back UE's position on issues raised during their meetings.

The UE delegates presence was welcomed by Phillip L. Neuenfeldt, secretary-trreasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO and by Rep. Spencer Coggs (D., Milwaukee). "We are vastly outspent up here in Madison by the very wealthy business interests," said Neuenfeldt. "That’s why we need unions like UE to be here to defend working people."

"The powers that be use everything at their disposal to control working people — that’s why it’s important for you to be here," declared Rep. Coggs. The legislator, a former union leader, gave his 100 percent backing to the UE Wisconsin legislative program.

Among the legislators who had a positive response to the union program was Terry Lesser from the Sparta area. Small farmers are being battered by NAFTA, he said. Apparently heir to a legacy of progressive Republican politics in the Badger state, Lesser agreed with the UE stance on prison labor and so-called "paycheck protection" legislation.

Delegates were also addressed by UE Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark, District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen and Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend, who reviewed the agenda and the issues.

At the wrap-up session, District Pres. Rosen asked if the union should have a Wisconsin political action day next year. Every hand went up.

UE Wisconsin members called for:

  • Health care reform. UE members backed Senate Bill 1/Assembly Bill 63, which would require the state to create a health care plan that would make coverage available to uninsured workers.

  • Improvements for working families. The union called for measures to improve the climate for working families, including: increasing the minimum wage, raising the level of benefits available under Wisconsin’s unemployment and workers’ compensation programs, and additional funding for child care. UE delegates demanded that legislators reject schemes such as "paycheck protection," which would restrict the free speech of working families.

  • An investigation of corporate welfare. The union asked legislators to call for an investigation of Wisconsin’s economic development and other corporate welfare programs.

  • Increased support for Wisconsin’s nursing homes. UE said the legislature must seriously address the difficult financial conditions facing Wisconsin’s nursing homes. Both nursing home residents and health care workers who care for them are suffering under this financial stress.

In addition, union delegates said, legislators should take immediate action to modify the impact of Act 27, scheduled for final implementation on Oct. 1. The Department of Health and Family Services is mandated to conduct background checks on more than 300,000 Wisconsin health care workers, for the purpose of barring anyone who has been convicted of both minor and major offenses — regardless of workers’ actual job performances, and without any statute of limitations. Delegates said the legislature should immediately suspend implementation of Act 27, which would allow time for key modifications such as the "grandfathering" of hundreds of thousands of current workers.

  • An end to prison labor. The Private Sector/Prison Industries Program created by the legislature in 1996 should be abolished because it gives bosses the option of eliminating employees in favor of cheap prison labor.

  • A moratorium on privatization. The legislature should pass legislation calling for a two-year moratorium on the further privatization of state and local public services.

  • Support for labor education in our schools. UE members backed Assembly Bill 130 which would mandate that public schools include in their history lessons some mention of the role of labor unions and the collective bargaining process. (A similar bill passed the state Senate in the last session.)

UE News - 06/99

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