Article Title

The State's Fortunate 50


Peter Schmalz


[Excerpt] Reaganomics are alive and well at the state and local levels. Not only are funds tight, but the same mean-spirited, anti-worker attitudes that characterized the Reagan administration have become increasingly prevalent among state and local government employers. For much of the 1980's, politicians were able to satisfy both public sector unions and the taxpayers by negotiating contracts that provided reasonable wage and benefit improvement without busting budgets. Today, most public employers perceive a direct conflict between the needs of their workers and a public attitude that is both anti-tax and anti-government. Like many corporations of the 1980's, public employers now find it easier to scapegoat workers and public sector unions than to grapple with the real issues of management responsibility and effectiveness.

The consequence is a dramatic change in public sector bargaining. Where negotiations once were focused on achieving gains for workers, they are now all too often dominated by talk of layoffs, privatization, wage freezes and insurance or other benefit give-backs. Public sector unions, which once were able to achieve good contracts through a combination of strong local union leadership and an effective political program, now are joining their brothers and sisters in the private sector in the search for more effective strategies to mobilize their members and to pressure their employers.

The corporate campaign model may be one such tactic. Although the model has been largely developed and used in private sector fights, many of the component parts have been used by successful public sector unions for years. This tactic offers two major advantages for the public sector fights at the bargaining table. The first is that public employers are highly visible and more vulnerable to public pressure than their counterparts in the private sector. Second, corporate campaigns provide methods of putting direct pressure on the employer while the union seeks to activate and energize the membership.

AFSCME Council 31 and Local 3700, representing 2,200 clerical and support workers at the University of Illinois in Champaign, were forced to use nontraditional tactics to successfully negotiate a first contract. Our struggle at the bargaining table demonstrates the effectiveness of corporate campaign-style tactics in the public sector.