Collective Bargaining: What It Is and Its Place in Wisconsin’s History

February 24, 2011

Stacy Van Alstyne
(262) 373-7746

Collective Bargaining: What It Is and Its Place in Wisconsin’s History

Brookfield, Wisconsin--The nation’s eye has turned to the state of Wisconsin, where the collective bargaining rights of public employees are being debated. Governor Scott Walker’s state budget repair bill calls for increased pension and health care contributions from public employees. It also calls for restrictions on collective bargaining for certain public employees.

What is collective bargaining? Collective bargaining is the negotiation process between an employer (or group of employers) and a union on behalf of employees regarding wages, benefits and other conditions of employment, such as work hours and dispute resolution. While the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 extended the right to collectively bargain to private sector employees, it did not include such rights for public employees. However, states may extend such rights to public employees within the affected states. Many states, but not all, have granted collective bargaining rights to some or all public employees.

Wisconsin has a long history of involvement with workers' rights in the public sector. In 1959, Wisconsin passed the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act, the first state law allowing collective bargaining rights for public employees. It extended rights to local government employees and teachers. Wisconsin state employees were awarded similar rights in the 1970s. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) grew out of the Wisconsin State Employees Union/Council 24, which had its beginnings in 1932 in Madison when a small group of white-collar professional state employees met to discuss strengthening the civil service system.

The first state workers’ compensation law was passed in Wisconsin in 1911, as was the nation’s first modern apprenticeship law. In 1932, Wisconsin enacted the first unemployment compensation (UC) law and established the nation’s first UC program in 1936.


About the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

The International Foundation is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to being a leading objective and independent global source of employee benefits, compensation and financial literacy education and information. Many of the 35,000 International Foundation members are involved in the sponsorship or operation of collectively bargained health, retirement and other fringe benefits funds in the private and public sectors. The International Foundation is headquartered in Wisconsin.