In The News
Abele, seeking Walker's old job, stands with workers in Madison
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted February 27
On February 26, Milwaukee county executive candidate Chris Abele joined the 80,000 or more Wisconsinites in Madison opposing Scott Walker’s disemboweling of bargaining rights for public workers.
The only time you could spot in Madison his opponent for Walker’s old job was when Republican Rep. Jeff Stone was standing behind the governor as he refused to bargain with unions or when Stone was voting for the governor’s legislation hastily in the dead of night and marching out to cries of “Shame!” from the Democratic minority.
On that remarkable Saturday after the Assembly vote, a Saturday of amazingly peaceful massive protests that swelled to 100,000 participants by many counts, thousands of non-union workers and students joined private and public workers, including police and firefighters, in drumming, marching and speaking out against Walker’s tactics. In mid-afternoon, Abele met with workers and union nurses. He chatted with Candice Owley, veteran leader of the national American Federation of Teachers and president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
A day earlier he had released a press statement attacking Stone for refusing “to find a common sense compromise to the budget standoff” and voting for “an extreme plan that threatens basic worker rights and protections.”
“This is another example of Jeff Stone following in the footsteps of Scott Walker,” said Abele’s statement.
But there is more going on here than local politics. Madison has changed all that. It has raised discussions and battle cries nationwide.
Owley was easy for Abele to find in Madison. She as well as other leaders and members of the union have been virtually camping in the State Capitol (including Sunday, when the police wisely refused to eject hundreds by force, including clergy), when they were not shuttling back to places like Milwaukee for work shifts and more protests. In fact, Owley and other union members marched and spoke in protest outside the Milwaukee County mental health complex in Wauwatosa (where many members work) and then turned right around Feb. 24 to get back to Madison.
Abele drew some criticism during the crowded primary for not making his positions clearer to working families. But clarity was a difficult task for all the candidates in the short time frame. The need for a clarion call may have been even harder for Abele, who was the newcomer to running for public office and is still learning the campaign ropes.
He also faced the stigma of coming from family wealth – he was actually put in charge of dispensing that wealth through a foundation for public service efforts, which includes many progressive and cultural causes that Abele has championed. He has also pointed out his ability to work with all sides, his partnership in fiscal study and educational efforts with noted Republicans.
But let’s face it. Hard working union members and people in the working class think it’s OK to pursue such money for their own progressive causes but harbor suspicion of those who have inherited money when they run for office speaking up for middle class causes.
And face something else, as candidate Abele seems to have. Walker’s tactics as governor and unbending attitude unless forced to listen have put the issues of governance in sharp perspective for Milwaukee voters, who traditionally have been Wisconsin progressive and Democratic.
Stone is a Republican diehard supporter of Walker’s programs –- he’s the one standing behind Walker in the press conference where he spoke about calling in the National Guard in case of labor unrest. Stone’s first mailings to the Milwaukee community put his support of Walker in the first sentence and he’s indicated that he will largely continue that approach.
But those county policies have not only put the county in a deeper hole, with structures crumbling around the citizens, they also put Walker in constant violation of legal statutes. This approach is likely to cost the county millions in neglected work to be done and back pay required under the law. Expect those growing realities to play out for Milwaukee County voters on April 5 in the race to complete Walker’s term as county executive (ending in 2012).
Yet Stone is relying on the backing of conservative talk radio and Walker’s old-guard support – in other words on forgetfulness.
Now, however, Walker’s tactics in Madison, which some regard as an extension of his Milwaukee tactics, have immediate costly consequence, and they have ended fence sitting in the case of workers’ rights, particularly after the public worker unions agreed to the financial concessions he sought.
Working with all sides requires talking to all sides, as Abele is emphasizing in his statements of support for public workers, including a letter to Walker, urging him to back off. Another recent endorsee of Abele, Mayor Tom Barrett, has urged a similar approach.
Said Abele, “Our number one priority in Milwaukee County must be creating more good-paying jobs. As we make the tough decisions to get our economy moving again, working men and women must have fair, open and honest bargaining rights, as well as protections against poor working conditions and unfair treatment. We can take on difficult budget and economic problems by coming together to find common ground and agreement, and working men and women can be part of the solution – if they are allowed. By working together instead of unilaterally, I know we can do it.”
Also camping out in the State Capitol with her family was Stephanie Bloomingdale, recent political director for the union but in September elected first woman secretary-treasurer for the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, a central player in establishing statewide policy for organized labor. Bloomingdale currently also serves on the executive council of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council.
You can learn more about the nurses and also following ongoing events at wfnhp.aft.org