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Wisc. Sen. Lena Taylor: Fight for collective bargaining rights not isolated to Wisconsin

Although it might be easy to view recent conflicts in Wisconsin as somewhat isolated, state Sen. Lena Taylor says that would be a major mistake.

Taylor, who is scheduled to provide the keynote address at the Polk County Democrats’ 11th annual Women’s Event Tuesday event, told The Iowa Independent by phone that “this is really a moment in America’s history where we have to determine whether or not we believe in her values and her democracy.”

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/lena_taylor_125.jpg Lena Taylor

First elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 2003, Taylor was one of the state’s “Fab 14″ lawmakers who left the state in hopes of preventing Gov. Scott Walker from passing a “Budget Repair Bill” that eliminated many collective bargaining rights of public employees.

She says her focus has always been fighting for the middle class and the working poor.

“Democracy in the workplace is called collective bargaining,” Taylor said.

Although federal law dating back to 1935 protects the right of private employees to engage in collective bargaining, there are no such protections for public sector employees who choose to unionize. Although Walker had argued that his bill would leave collective bargaining in Wisconsin “fully intact,” the statement was given PolitiFact’s strongest rebuke of “pants on fire.”

Although the Wisconsin bill carved out exceptions for firefighters, police and state troopers, all other public sector unions saw at least a partial reduction of their rights to collectively bargain. Rights for about 5,000 home health care workers and 2,800 employees of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics, including nurses, were completely repealed, and 30,000 University of Wisconsin System faculty and academic staff had their rights to organize and bargain completely rolled back from an earlier (Democratic) state decision that allowed it.

Due to mostly conservative, but a few liberal, shadowy influence groups chiming in on subsequent recall elections, no one really knows how many millions have been spent in Wisconsin in an effort to either preserve or repeal Walker’s bill. Currently, Democrats remain one vote shy in the Wisconsin Senate.

When Taylor takes the microphone in Des Moines Tuesday night, attendees will no doubt hear much more about the ongoing Wisconsin labor battles, but the Democrat will also be speaking on something far more personal in nature. Although she is the 1,000th senator for Wisconsin, she is only the 20th woman and fifth African American to serve. In fact, she is only the second African American woman senator in state history.

Similar numbers are at work in Iowa, where women hold a slim majority of the state’s overall population but far less than half of state elected offices. When county and local elected offices are combined, it’s been estimated that women serve in less than 15 percent of all elected positions. At the national level, Iowa joins Mississippi as the only states to have never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate or House or as governor.

Taylor muses that her own state isn’t likely far ahead of Mississippi and Iowa when it comes to gender equality for elected offices, noting that the state has only had a few women who have served at the national or statewide level.

“Women play an important role in politics,” Taylor said.

Because most government positions traditionally dominated by males — firefighters and police, for example — were held exempt by Walker and Wisconsin Republicans, the caps and limits placed on collective bargaining in the state will strike more directly upon professions that are traditionally dominated by females, such as teachers and nurses. A recent report indicated that two-thirds of all Wisconsin families in poverty are led by women and, across-the-board in the Wisconsin, women are more likely than men to be poor. For those reasons, the limits on collective bargaining are expected to further negatively impact one of the state’s already vulnerable demographics.

Analysis of Walker’s executive budget, introduced on March 31, by the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health in partnership with students from the University of Wisconsin Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs found that of the proposed $4.2 billion in proposed cuts, $1.7 billion, or 40 percent, are direct cuts to programs that serve Wisconsin women and girls. When programs that predominantly serve women are included, more than 50 percent of the proposed cuts would negatively impact women’s services ranging from health care to legal services for victims of sexual assault, job training to child care and education services.

“We need to engage and we need to be active because we are the mothers of the young people who are coming behind us, and we weren’t always part of the ‘we the people’ in America,” she said.

The annual women’s event in Des Moines is being hosted by Roxanne Conlin, one of several Iowa women who have made unsuccessful bids for federal office.

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