By Andrew Ujifusa
With his poll numbers in the 2016 GOP presidential primary contest barely clearing 4 percent, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is going back to the political issue that made him famous: teachers’ unions.
Over the past week, Walker has made his pledge to fight “big government union bosses” a major theme in his campaign. On Labor Day, Sept. 7, he touted the right-to-work legislation he signed into law and attacked President Barack Obama for being too cozy with labor unions. Then, in a speech on Monday, not for the first time, he chose to highlight the case of Wisconsin teacher Megan Sampson.
Sampson, the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English’s Outstanding First Year Teacher in 2010, lost her job because of expensive health care plans demanded by unions that put the squeeze on the number of teaching positions available, Walker claimed in his remarks.
Stories like hers, the governor said, motivated him to effectively end collective bargaining for most public employees through legislation he signed (Act 10) after a great deal of controversy, in 2011. (Sampson herself, meanwhile, got a teaching job in another Wisconsin district, and eventually said she disliked becoming part of the political tussle over unions.) That meant the end of seniority and tenure as factors for whether teachers kept their jobs, and greater financial flexibility for districts, Walker claimed.
“When I took over as governor in 2011, we set out to change that by taking on the big government union bosses. We went big, and we went bold,” Walker said in prepared remarks Monday.
To that end, Walker pledged to end the National Labor Relations Board. He also said that as president, he would end the automatic deduction of union dues from federal employees’ paychecks and, more generally, plans to “eliminate the big government unions entirely.”
The impact of Act 10 in Wisconsin is up for debate. Supporters point to a new marketplace for teachers and higher starting pay for teachers in some districts. Others claim that the impact of the law, combined with the $800 million cut to K-12 aid Walker also approved in 2011 and restrictive local property tax caps, have significantly damaged public schools in the state.
In his speech Monday, Walker also touted his state’s improved performance in 3rd grade reading and on the ACT—my colleague Alyson Klein sliced and diced those claims back in June.
Photo: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the National Rifle Association convention on April 10, in Nashville. --Mark Humphrey/AP
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