AFTRA Speaks Out in Support of Public Sector Union Members

Union president Roberta Reardon criticizes attempts in Wisconsin and elsewhere to weaken unions and reduce benefits.

A struggle over public employee unions has gripped Wisconsin since last week, when the state’s Republican governor announced a proposal to limit wages, require employees to pay more for pension and health benefits and, perhaps most controversially, constrict the scope of collective bargaining and force such unions to hold yearly votes on whether they should remain in existence.

The result has been several days of protests in the state capital, Madison, by tens of thousands of union supporters and a smaller number of opponents. There have recently been moves against public employee unions in Ohio and other states as well, and the situation has attracted national notice.

On Sunday, AFTRA weighed in. “Just as AFTRA members have sacrificed at the bargaining table to provide our families with access to quality health care and economic security when we retire, so have union members in the public sector made sacrifices to do the same,” said union president Roberta Reardon.

That particular train may have left the station, however, since Wisconsin union leaders have agreed to accept a requirement that employees pay more for their pension and health benefits, according to the New York Times. The changes would cut take home pay for many workers by about 7%, the Times said.

In Hollywood too, pension and health have emerged as major issues in union negotiations over the past year or so. Health care co-pays have increased and some benefits have been cut, but employers have also agreed to shoulder a larger share of the costs of pension and health plans.

Reardon also decried aspects of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal that would allow collective bargaining on wage issues only, and weaken public employee unions in other respects.

On those subjects, Reardon remarked “Stripping Americans of our rights -- such as the rights to collectively bargain and to freely join a union -- is not the solution to the problems we face in a tough economy, nor is suppressing the voice of union members the way to fix a broken budget.”

Those issues remain in play in Wisconsin.

The statement concluded by underscoring the basic principle of trade unions: “Americans have an inalienable right to a fair living wage, decent benefits, safe working conditions and a voice in our workplaces.”