Why do Republicans generally support busting public employee unions and Democrats generally oppose it? Sincere reasoning underpins both positions.
However, whether or not you believe that public sector workers should have the right to collectively bargain, you must acknowledge the political considerations that strongly influence the Democratic and Republican positions on the issue.
Simply put: Union money supports Democrats and kills Republicans.
This State Journal article spells out the influence of union money on campaigns. Here are some numbers: Over the past decade, unions in Wisconsin have given 93 percent of campaign contributions to Democrats. For teachers, the percentage is 75 percent, and for overall public sector, the percentage is 73 percent.
The last two numbers surprised me. The largest public sector union, AFSCME, is essentially a part of the national Democratic Party apparatus. However, the state chapter did twice endorse Tommy Thompson in the '90's. Furthermore, police and fire unions distribute their support more evenly.
The teachers are an even bigger surprise. WEAC, for instance, generally has an unwritten policy of automatically endorsing Democratic incumbents. However, a decade ago Republicans like Dale Schultz, who touts his support for Tony Earl's proposed education reforms, occasionally competed with Democrats for the support of teacher unions.
The State Journal is correct in noting the damage the union-busting could have on the state Democratic Party. However, for state Dems, there is a significant consolation prize: The fight over unions has flushed the State Senate Dems campaign account with over half a million dollars, an amount that more than makes up for whatever deficit the GOP might have inflicted by eliminating automatic union dues, for the next cycle at least.
Of course, the Republican playbook is written for the long-term. If the GOP succeeds at passing the budget repair bill, the Democrats will need to have full control of the legislature and governor's mansion before they can rewrite the law in unions' favor. And as I'm sure union leaders are worrying, if the time between now and then is too long, public sector unions may be so weak that Democrats will feel no need to look out for them.
However, as Christian Schneider theorizes, collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin was born out of a Democratic governor's desire for more campaign cash. Perhaps history will repeat itself somewhere down the line.