AFSCME Consolidates WI Unions to Cope with Membership Decline

Walker reforms see employees sever ties with unions

May 1, 2015

The labor reforms enacted by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R.) have forced some of the state’s most influential unions to merge following steep declines in membership.

Four years after Walker enacted reforms to end coercive unionism and curb collective bargaining for public sector unions, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) announced that it would consolidate three local councils, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The merger is historically significant, as Wisconsin is the birthplace of AFSCME.

Council 40, the state’s largest chapter, has seen its membership rolls fall from nearly 32,000 in 2011 to fewer than 10,000 in 2014, according to its most recent federal union filings. Revenue fell from $11.2 million to $4.2 million over that period. Council 48 saw its membership decline by an even wider margin: there were fewer than than 2,800 members in 2014, down from 9,000 in 2011. Its revenue plummeted from $7 million to $1.3 million in 2014.

The unions ran deficits as they hemorrhaged members, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

"Council 24 revenue dropped from over $5 million in 2010 to $1.5 million in 2013. Like the other councils it reduced staff to cut costs, but from 2011 through 2013 it spent $1.8 million more than it took in," the Journal noted, and councils 24, 40, and 48 went from 63,000 combined members to "likely less than 20,000 now."

"We are going to come back and be stronger than ever some day in spite of Gov. (Scott Walker)," AFSCME VP Fox told the Journal.

The reforms helped Walker close a $3 billion budget deficit he inherited from his Democratic predecessor. Unions staged weeks-long demonstrations outside of the state capitol and eventually attempted to recall him.

Walker became the first sitting governor to survive a recall vote and won his third election in four years in 2014. Walker’s reforms have catapulted him into a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

This is not the first time public sector workers unions have had to merge to deal with flagging support from members. The state’s largest teachers unions announced that they were exploring the possibility of a merger after suffering multi-million dollar revenue losses. Those talks "stalled" in 2014 after a dispute over membership dues.