Setting the record straight about Tom Barrett

Image courtesy Barrett for Wisconsin
There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll come under fire in some circles for what I’m about to write, but I think it’s important that as the Democratic gubernatorial primary swings into full gear some Democrats/progressives/liberals don’t rush to form a circular firing squad in order to attack Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (pictured, left) for his supposed “sins” when it comes to his dealings with organized labor.

Though I’ve not committed to supporting any of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, I think the attacks that have been leveled against Mayor Barrett by WEAC, AFSCME, and “Sly” Sylvester of WTDY-AM’s “Sly in the Morning” show are not only unfair, they’re also not completely accurate.

When Republican Gov. Scott Walker eliminated collective bargaining rights for public employees under Act 10, Mayor Barrett took steps to balance his desire to protect city workers with his need to fill the $15 million cut in state aid to the City of Milwaukee, a need made more difficult by tax levy limits imposed by Act 10. Despite the challenges faced by the City of Milwaukee, the $15 million shortfall was addressed without layoffs of any city employees and without forcing employees to take pay cuts, in contrast to Dane County employees who were recently forced to accept wage concessions.

Though Act 10 eliminated collective bargaining for public employees, Mayor Barrett worked to provide city employees with rights by implementing “meet and confer” language to require labor/management cooperation and discussion. What’s more, Mayor Barrett also extended civil service protections to employees who lost their rights under Act 10, making him one of a handful of Mayors across Wisconsin who took these actions to protect workers.

As former Democratic U.S. Representative Dave Obey has said, “Blaming Tom Barrett for the actions in the Milwaukee budget that were forced by Gov. Walker is like blaming a surgeon who does surgery after a patient is hit by a truck. It’s just misdirected and unfair and it disserves every union member who receives that information because they have a right to have accurate information in making up their own minds in who we’re going to support.”

In a recent video that made the rounds of the intertubes, AFSCME attacked Mayor Barrett for supposedly supporting passage of Act 10 based on statements made by Barrett that were taken out-of-context. In the heavily edited video, Barrett can be heard saying, “Collective bargaining changes are not fiscal … the Fiscal Bureau and others have said they are not fiscal. You could vote on those without those missing senators. You could vote on those tomorrow morning.” The video then adds this Barrett statement: “And the bill would pass. And the bill should pass.”

However, thanks to the wonders of editing, here’s a Barrett statement left out of the video: “I would vote no on the changes in collective bargaining.”

The creative editing of AFSCME’s attack video earned AFSCME a “FALSE” rating from PolitiFact, but that hasn’t stopped detractors from continuing their attacks on Tom Barrett for supposedly being no friend to organized labor.

As I wrote at the beginning of this entry, I think the attacks on Tom Barrett by AFSCME, WEAC, and some on the left are not only unfair, but it certainly seems they’re also not entirely accurate. While Tom Barrett’s record when it comes to dealing with labor unions may not be as perfect as they’d like, I’d take Gov. Tom Barrett over Gov. Scott Walker every day of the week and twice on Sunday.


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41 thoughts on “Setting the record straight about Tom Barrett

  1. He also said he was for the rest of ACT10 and that it was about time public employees started paying more for their healthcare and pensions.

    Add that to the fact he kicked off his campaign with a nice fundraiser with Rahm Emanuel who has nothing but disdain for progressives in his career added to his lack of interest in campaigning or even trying to get elected last time and it does not add up to me.

  2. And then there is Barrett surrogate Dave Cieslewicz’ comparison of unions to the Koch Brothers:

    A candidate beholden to big unions is no more appealing to independent voters than one who answers to the Koch brothers.

    Was it really necessary to make that sort of comparison? I assume former Mayor Dave means what he says. He ran for reelection with the support of city unions and now stabs them in the back with a vicious slander at the behest of the candidate who he hopes will revive his political career with a choice appointment.

    Cieslewicz is the worst breed of politician who uses union support and volunteers to advance his career and then turns on them when his career changes direction. With surrogates like this I think Barrett is sending a clear signal of how he will conduct himself in office. Workers’ rights will become secondary to everything. I will vote for Barrett in the final election if I must because Walker is an evil sociopath, but the workers’ movement must remain mobilized and be prepared to crawl up the new Governor’s ass when he starts acting like Rahm Immanuel.

    I don’t give a personal damn about any politician but I do care about the ability of working class people to lead dignified lives and take care of their families. The only institutions in this country that serve that purpose are unions. I learned from my Father what life for the working class was like before the union movment took hold. Workers were treated like dogs, like criminals. I’ll make this as clear as I can. If a politician hates unions then he hates me and I will return the sentiment.

  3. Good job on illuminating Tom Barrett’s record. I do sympathize with the union’s position on Barrett, but the attack video in question was not a good demonstration of principled opposition. I fear that this un-muddying of the waters even has to take place is symptomatic of a greater problem. Conditions that will vastly improve, if not guarantee, Scott Walker’s success have occurred:

    It’s all about collective bargaining
    The most important thing is to unseat the governor
    It’s a slugfest.

    The things we need to talk about are how these conditions occurred and can we shift direction? My answer to how this occurred is:

    The recall momentum should have driven the Democratic establishment farther to the left. It didn’t.
    Unions should have ratcheted their concerns beyond collective bargaining and Act 10. They did not.

    I am not confident that any real shift can be made at this point, but the effort should still be made. If Scott Walker wins, I’d suggest we more robustly examine these two avenues if we want to tangibly, not rhetorically, move Wisconsin forward. If he loses, we should do the same.

  4. As much as I hate to see a mud slinging primary…I really wish Barret wasn’t running. He lost the first time because he does not inspire the left with his middle of the road politics. He also supported taking from modestly paid employees to balance the budget and limiting bargaining rights . that being said I’ll still vote for him against Walker.

  5. Labor in Wisconsin needs to upgrade their public relations skills. They are facing ultimate annihilation around the country if they don’t learn how to earn back their once admired status in America. Just saying “you didn’t give me…” over and over is a path to disaster.

    1. Yeah, I still fail to understand how AFSCME and WEAC hand-picking Falk as their preferred Democratic gubernatorial candidate does play right into the conservative meme of “union bosses calling the shots” when it comes to Wisconsin politics.

  6. I understand Lori Compas approached Mike Tate three times looking for state D party support to recall Fitzgerald and was told Fitz could not be successfully challenged (i.e. go away little woman, don’t waste our time or funds). Farther up the food chain, even more of a disconnect with the regular people or progressive values, i.e. Congress and Obama.

    1. Right on, nonquixote. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, The National Conference of Democratic Mayors, The Democratic Governor’s Association, the Democratic National Committee and the executive branch are all in lock-step with the “New” Democratic Leadership Council: The Blue Dog philosophy. The DLC agenda has attempted to co-opt and redefine progressivism for well over a decade. To my mind it’s nothing more than pure subversion and has rendered the Democratic Party obsolete. Media – defined Blue Dogs may be getting voted out here and there, but their philosophy is the driving force behind Democratic Party itself.

      Case in point, The “New” Democrat Credo apparently not updated since 2001:

      “In keeping with our party’s grand tradition, we reaffirm Jefferson’s belief in individual liberty and capacity for self-government. We endorse Jackson’s credo of equal opportunity for all, special privileges for none. We embrace Roosevelt’s thirst for innovation and Kennedy’s summons to civic duty. And we intend to carry on Clinton’s insistence upon new means to achieve progressive ideals.
      We believe that the promise of America is equal opportunity for all and special privilege for none. We believe that economic growth generated in the private sector is the prerequisite for opportunity, and that government’s role is to promote growth and to equip Americans with the tools they need to prosper in the New Economy.
      We believe that government programs should be grounded in the values most Americans share: work, family, personal responsibility, individual liberty, faith, tolerance, and inclusion.
      We believe in community; that we can achieve our individual destinies only if we share a commitment to our national destiny. We believe in an ethic of mutual responsibility in which government has an obligation to create opportunity for citizens, but citizens have an obligation to give something back to the commonwealth.
      We believe America has a responsibility to lead the world toward greater political and economic freedom.
      We believe that as advocates of activist government, we need to reinvent government so that it is both more responsive and more accountable to those it serves and to the taxpayers who pay for it.”

      I will leave it up to the reader to find any semblance of progressivism here. When I hear a Democratic candidate campaign on municipal enterprise, local living economies, corporate cooperatives, prioritizing the public sector, the public good, the environment, the poor, the homeless, and viewing taxes as patriotic life-blood, I’ll listen.

  7. Chuck Koch has already flat out admitted that they are doing everything they can to make sure Scott Walker wins, so if Kansas Born, current New york city resident and lunatic silver spoon billionaire picks Scotty, why can’t WI unions also have a say in the election process?

  8. PJ is on point.

    I am pro-union, but not pro-these-union-leaders. They did not support my group of state employees in seeking collective bargaining rights when state law banned those for us. They did not consult us when bargaining for their employee groups, which imposed their agreements on us for years (such as bargaining away pay increases for benefits that now are gone, anyway). They did not consult us again last year in offering the concessions for all of us that didn’t work in fighting Walker, anyway.

    And now they keep hammering the message that Act 10 is the only issue, when it is not a winning issue for many Wisconsinites that we need to win back our Wisconsin for all of us. They are acting divisively in this primary, when Democrats need to come together as well as bring over others. They are acting unethically in their attacks on a Democratic candidate most likely to win, admitting their “poor judgment” in doing so, and only alienating backers of Barrett and tainting Falk with these tactics, while providing Walker with ammo for the general election.

    Falk needs to denounce the union leaders’ tactics, of course; that she has not done so for weeks now may only weaken her and all of us who worked hard for the recall for many reasons, not just Act 10, if she does take the primary.

    We have to win in June, not just in May.

  9. I do wish progressives would spend a bit of time outside our bigger cities, in the small towns and cities of Wisconsin, to get a better what is possible in an election in other parts of the state. Remember…this state elected Walker in the first place, and we need a candidate who can appeal to a broad swath of voters, not just to the Left. Falk will not, never, no-how appeal to folks across the state. Vinehout may, and Tom Barrett can. The Dems need to unify behind a feasible candidate, but fast. Barrett knows state politics better than any, and he’s dealt head-on with some of the toughest issues around.

    1. Tom Barrett has lost twice in a statewide elections. What has changed? Other than Barrett losing all labor support he hasn’t changed anything else to have gotten more attractive to the rural areas at all. We do need to build a broader base outside of Madison and Milwaukee of course but I doubt the mayor of Milwaukee is the man to do it.

      1. Falk has lost twice in statewide elections — and in years when other Democrats won. So has La Follette.

        And Barrett has lots of labor support. Or perhaps you have not heard of the Teamsters?

        But with your logic, you’ve left yourself only able to vote for Vinehout — who voted against women’s rights.


  10. Maria, I agree with you regarding the need – the desperate need – to represent the interests of those voices outside Madison and Metro Milwaukee. I respectfully disagree, however, with the idea that Walker’s challenger must make a broad appeal by skewing more to the right – if that’s what you are implying. I think we need a genuinely progressive candidate because progressive values do resonate with broad swaths people. Poll after poll on the national level confirms this. Rural concerns and economic development in less urban areas are more adequately and realistically addressed with progressive policies.
    If Scott Walker has done one thing right, it’s in how he’s cast the recall – as a referendum on the direction government should go. And it is a national referendum. We had a progressive referendum in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama: it was squandered. We had a referendum in 2010 with the Tea Party sweep: it was not squandered. We have a referendum Walker’s recall: ?
    You’re right about Barrett’s credentials, but restoring collective bargaining rights notwithstanding, I’d wager Barrett would govern as a pro-growth blue dog. The direction would be the same as Walker’s, just a slower route, and farther away from the instrumental change necessary to actually confront 21st century globalism. Unifying on electability is the RNC strategy with Romney. It’s unprincipled and it’s the politics of fear. Conservatives don’t like Romney but they hate Barack Obama more. I don’t think that’s a model we should follow.

  11. Sorry her, I think act10 is the single biggest issue on this election and we are not hammering it enough. Also not sure what falk has to denounce. She has been running a great campaign.

  12. Jeff – Re: Act 10 as the single, biggest issue – not disagreeing with you, but I have a slightly different take on it (in terms of Walker’s strategy): Look at the Ad Walker released this morning. He’s setting the direction of the election…. again. Similar to the way Barack Obama has framed his reelection campaign – “it’s working, remember how my predecessor failed? don’t change ships midstream….” But bear in mind Walker has already successfully hammered the idea that he is the victim because of his support for Act 10 and that any criticism aimed at him with respect to Act 10 proves that his opponents are lobbing vicious, mudslinging lies in his direction. And he’s the brave heroic reformer who won’t back down. Paul Ryan has preempted and nullified the “ending medicare” criticism in much the same way. My guess is that at this point, any challenger who isn’t focused on a rock solid (and sharply differentiated) vision for the future will be chewed to pieces. Walker will cast himself as the one who is moving forward while his challenger is carping, harping, and sowing the seeds of discord. And I imagine, by the time it even gets to that point, he will have already made mincemeat out of his challenger’s record. Walker will steer the campaign in such a way so that it will not be about Act 10, it will be about about competing long term visions and bold leadership.

    If Act 10 does become a primary focus, the “right to work” specter will rear its ugly head. If that’s the case, I suspect Scott Walker’s $12 million will come in pretty handy. Then he will be the visionary figure defending Wisconsin’s defenseless businesses struggling and unable to compete in the global economy against the “special interest” union thugs that are getting fat and rich at the expense of Wisconsin taxpayers.

  13. Interestingly, Barrett just came out and said that he isn’t interested in restoring all of the collective bargaining rights.

    As for the argument about not having a choice, first of all, you make that choice when you elect the officials of your Local to represent you. To complain about it would be like having to have a state wide election on every bill and law that is up for approval.

    Second of all, that is a BS argument because you haven’t gotten to vote on any endorsements and no one’s complained.

    Lastly, if you don’t like the leadership of the union, you get involved and take out the people you don’t like, just like with any other democratic process.

    1. Chris, from what I’ve read, Barrett said he’d keep pension and health insurance payments where they are right now. If I’m not mistaken, the unions were willing to accept higher pension and health insurance payments right before Walker dropped Act 10 onto the state.

  14. Capper: Link, please? Or at least a (complete) quote?

    Interestingly, I have a low level of trust in (certain sources’) interpretations of what Barrett says, after a recent video taking him out of context (that was promulgated first by a certain blogger who remarkably resembles you).

    1. And yet, that’s a part of collective bargaining unions were willing to concede before Act 10, so how’s Tom Barrett all of a sudden an enemy of unions for taking a similar stance?

  15. No, benefits are results of collective bargaining rights.

    Free ice cream on a weekly basis for all public employees also could be a result of collective bargaining rights, if public employees negotiate well for free ice cream.

    That doesn’t make ice cream a right, only one of many possible results.

    Really, you don’t understand the difference between the right to bargain and the result of bargaining? If you really do not, take a bit of advice and stay away from Seven Mile Fair.

    1. You make my point for me. The bennies are a result of collective bargaining. If Barrett is setting the limits on those bennies, he’s saying he’s not willing to bargain on them.

      Perhaps you should lay off the personal attacks and think things through more thoroughly.

      1. No, I am not making your point at all, because it is incorrect to call the results of a process the process itself. Clever, but don’t put your incorrect words in my mouth, please.

        Look at it this way, since you (and the candidates) are talking about two types of benefits, health insurance and pensions, let’s say that one is taken off the table in this debate — pension payments, for example. That does not mean that public employees would have only half of their collective bargaining right. (I’m using the singular “right,” in case it is the plural that is causing the definitional problem.)

        Or let’s say that the candidates come to agreement in this debate that the pension payments will not be more than 12 percent but will not go back to half of that; instead, they will be reduced to 8 percent. That does not mean that public employees would have gained any more of the right to collective bargaining; it would mean only that they have gained back some of the benefit they had (or would have lessened the hit that they took) by using the right to gain back some of it.

        For that matter, of course, Walker likes to claim that he did not take away the collective bargaining right — and he is correct, and it is important that we understand the semantic trick to explain it to those who would fall for it.

        Those public employees who had the right (not me, sadly, as public employee unions did not support my plea for them as a public employee banned from them) still have the right to collective bargaining — but only for one small part of what they could bargain for before. So it is very important to be able to talk clearly about the right vs. the results. Walker restricted the results, curtailing the right for public employees to bargain — say, as they have done for years (as it was imposed on me without the right), to bargain away raises for benefits.

        Understanding that can help some people see why this move was not good in the long run for the state — “the taxpayer,” as some like to say, ignoring that all public employees pay taxes, too, of course. The way to an effective budget is through the process of compromise, of give and take, of bargaining. Wait ’til the state government is not in the hands of Republicans or the Doyle type of Dem who just impose their will upon public employees. Wait ’til the state needs their cooperation and asks for something. But in trade for what?

        Hmmm, that’s what just happened in MPS: The school board wanted the teachers to give up pay but had nothing to give in return, really, owing to Walker’s restriction on the right. (It could be said that “small class size” is a working condition, but those are not supposed to be negotiated anymore, so that’s interesting as a precedent that could be used by teachers in future. . . . But define “small class size”? Read those stories closely, and it was never quite clear, and could be countermanded “in emergencies,” etc.) There was no negotiation for, say, a percent off in pension payments in return for 2.6 percent off in salary.

        It was just up or down, and the teachers turned it down — as well they should have done, without the process of collective bargaining as in past for them to come up with an offer to effect a compromise on it that would have served MPS, the teachers — and, of course, the students.

  16. Setting limits on anything does not mean that one is automatically against anything. Jesus H. Keerist…I get very, very tired of this all-or-nothing attitude amongst certain progressives who would cut off their own noses to spite their faces. The right to collective bargaining gives employees certain powers over their employment. It allows employees to have a voice on such things as wages, benefits, job safety, and the working environment. If Tom Barrett had to make concessions that were not in the best interests of unions because he was hampered by a goddamned stupid law that Walker rammed through, then he’s doing the best he can to help state and municipal employees. Zach pointed this out, in case Capper missed it.

    As to the link Capper posted above claiming Barrett “isn’t interested in changing pension/health care double payments”, there isn’t one single quote coming from Barrett that says that. Capper’s reading into Barrett’s stance what he wants to read into it. That’s wrong. Read the damn article again, buddy, and then we’ll talk.

  17. Um, scroll back up the thread to my first comment. Barrett was trying to get rid of the rights to bargain on the bennies before Act 10 went into effect.

    Using Walker as a scapegoat for something Barrett was doing before the law went into effect is just excuse-making.

    And I am interested in more than just changing the name of the governor. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to make the state whole, and not just half-way whole.

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