“While Barrett was positioning himself as Walker-lite to the right-wing radio audience, Kathleen Falk was in court suing the state Senate for violating the state’s open meetings law,” says Mike Amato, the chairman of TAA’s Political Education Committee. Amato’s committee voted unanimously to recommend that the membership get behind Falk in February, but the rest of the union hasn’t accepted the advice. It voted in March to remove the endorsement conditions, but still did not endorse Falk.
Some now argue that it is better for the union to endorse no one rather than compromise on its principles. TAA’s co-president, Adrienne Pagac, says the union should have left the endorsement conditions in place. “Some people were frightened that it was asking too much … Are we asking too much when we say we just want back what we had when Governor Walker came into office?” Pagac says. Falk’s boasts about Dane County make her worry that, as governor, Falk would join Democrats like New York’s Andrew Cuomo in shortchanging workers rather than asking the wealthy to make sacrifices.
Amato says that, while he supported the “No cuts” call at the capitol last year, reversing year-old concessions is the wrong place to draw a line in the sand. “Were she to say that she would restore every cut to every union … that would doom her candidacy, and on June 6 we would have Walker in the governor’s office,” he says. “I think we absolutely have to make sure that we defeat Walker.”
Pagac counters that a Falk endorsement would preserve political incentives that push candidates to the middle of the road while leaving unions under the bus. “The labor movement has become a fine-tuned machine in terms of being able to turn out voters …” says Pagac. “Organizing workers takes a lot longer.” If unions are strong enough, she says, “it doesn’t matter what political party is in office, because you have the ability to use that power, the power that you have in the workplace, to extract wins from your employer and the state.”
Amato says “one of the false ideas” held by some TAA members is that there’s “a zero-sum relationship where we have to do workplace organizing or political organizing.” Rather, he says, political activism is an opportunity to engage more members in the union. He worries that sitting out the election will hurt the union’s relevance, and will send the wrong message to others who occupied the capitol: “As an organization that is looked to for leadership, we have a responsibility to lead.” He also worries that rejecting Falk for excessive moderation could hand the primary to Barrett. “The idea that we’ve come this far and then we’re going to sit out the election boggles my mind.”
The TAA membership will meet again next Thursday. Amato says he doesn’t know whether he’ll revive the motion to endorse Falk. “It’s become a really contentious issue,” says Amato, “and I think a lot of us are starting to question how hard we’re going to push on it. I think it will absolutely be a big mistake if we don’t endorse Kathleen Falk.” But if both sides remain adamant, says Amato, “I also don’t think it’s worth tearing apart the union.”