There but for Dayton: Wisconsin Gets Worse for Working Women

Back during the Vietnam era, folk singer Phil Ochs wrote a song (made a hit by Joan Baez's cover) called “There but for Fortune.” A short song, it described people suffering harsh conditions with the warning, “There but for fortune may go you or I.” Watching Wisconsin turn back the clock on rights for workers, women, and working women, I can't help but think that Minnesotans need a new version, “There but for Dayton”.

Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker recently signed a law repealing the state's Equal Pay Enforcement Act. Most states have some version of this law, which allows workers who've been discriminated against to seek damages in state courts (usually faster and less expensive for plaintiffs than federal courts). The law in Wisconsin was put in place primarily to address the persistent wage gap between men and women, and indications were that it was showing progress toward closing that gap.

That is, until Walker repealed it with the help of his state legislature. Add that to his repeal of the country's oldest collective bargaining guarantee for public workers, and you get a state that's on the road to the bad old days.

There but for Dayton might go Minnesota. If a few thousand people had voted differently in the 2010 gubernatorial election, we might have already seen the same backward moves here. Our legislature is just as conservative-dominated as the one in Wisconsin, and about the only thing keeping them in check is Dayton's veto pen.

The anti-teacher-seniority bill I've argued against for the past couple months is penny ante stuff next to the wholesale repeal of collective bargaining rights for public workers. With a different governor, the actually-bad-for-workers “right to work” amendment that's currently foundering might have passed last session before conservatives started worrying about union backlash. And women (along with racial minorities, practitioners of minority faiths, older workers, and many other groups) would have seen workplace protections start vanishing.

Wisconsin's backward path is in direct contradiction with their state motto, “Forward.” Dayton alone can't make Minnesota the Star of the North (we'd need a more progressive legislature to move in that direction), but at least he's kept us from being the Shame of the North.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Racial Inequalities  Workers' Rights 

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