Wisconsin's Governor Cannot Hide His Contempt for Women and the Poor
During his relatively short time on the national stage, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has proven himself one of the Republican party’s most prolific fundraisers and has some wonks speculating about a 2016 Presidential run. But perhaps his most impressive achievement is the extensive scope of the damage he has done to the state of Wisconsin in under four years.
Since being sworn into office in 2011, Walker has singlehandedly dismantled Wisconsin’s century-old reputation as a state with some of the most progressive labor laws in the country. While his highly publicized attacks on unions will likely be the defining moment of his first term as governor, Walker — who is running for reelection this November — has also been consistently at work at something far more sinister: a blatant attack on Wisconsin’s women, non-white and poor people.
Problems with Governor Walker started less than two months after he was sworn into office with the signing of the “Budget Repair Bill,” a piece of legislation that stripped most public employees’ unions of all collective bargaining rights in order to close Wisconsin’s $137 million budget gap (a pointless exercise as unions didn’t cause the deficit and cutting their collective bargaining rights didn’t save the state money). Conveniently, around the same time, he also introduced a series of tax breaks for the state’s rich.
Wisconsin’s labor force was angry and, as such, took to the streets in the tens of thousands. It was the dead of Wisconsin winter and, for weeks, dozens of people slept outdoors on the steps of the state capitol building to show their displeasure. The protests led to a recall election that was ultimately unsuccessful. The demonstrators and their supporters had the passion, but Walker was funded by the Republican elite. It was David versus Goliath — if Goliath had been backed by Koch brothers‘ money. He was basically impossible to beat.
Wisconsin’s labor force was momentarily defeated, but determined to keep going and fight back, even as Walker chipped away more and more at their rights. In a recent move, Wisconsin Jobs Now and Wisconsin Working Families gathered 100 low-wage workers to submit complaints to Scott Walker’s office, invoking a little known law — Wisc. Stats. 104, a.k.a the “Minimum Wage Law”— that gives the governor 20 days to determine whether or not the state’s minimum wage is also a living wage.
These workers weren’t presenting their case simply to be a thorn in Walker’s side. Wisconsin’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. This, for the full-time worker, amounts to a minuscule $15,080 per year salary. According to the Living Wage Calculator, a Wisconsin worker with no dependents would need to make at least $18,455 per year to be able to pay for basic necessities like food, housing and transportation. The current minimum wage falls short by $3,375.
As is so often the case, the living wage issue is one that disproportionately effects women and people of color. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and COWS, women make up 50.3% of Wisconsin’s population and 57% of the workers living on minimum wage. The state, though predominantly white, is 6.5% black and 6.3% Latino, yet those ethnic groups make up 8.9% and 9.2% of workers who survive under the living wage line.
How else does the current minimum wage completely fuck over women and non-white people? First, women are more likely than men to be the primary caregiver to a child, which makes living on $15,080 per year salary even more removed from realistic possibility. The gap between what a minimum wage-earning single mothers would need to earn to survive comfortably and what she actually earns is $44,209. For single mothers of two, the wage gap is closer to $57,967. Furthermore, people of color are more likely to live in Wisconsin’s urban centers like Milwaukee and Madison and, according to the official complaint submitted by Peter Rickman (of Wisconsin Jobs Now) to Scott Walker’s office on behalf of the 100 low-wage workers, living on minimum wage in Dane or Milwaukee county comes with extra challenges:
“In Milwaukee County, a single adult worker employed full-time would need to earn an hourly wage of $9.48 to achieve an annual income of $19,717 that meets the subsistence budget.”
Under the Minimum Wage Law (which was originally enacted in 1913 to protect women and minors from being exploited by employers), the 100 workers had a strong case — assuming, of course, that Walker would take the time to look at it and listen to stories like the one told by Britany Ferguson, a mother of two who works as a housekeeper at a Marriott Hotel for $9 per hour and can barely afford to feed her children:But Walker didn’t listen to her story or any of the other 99 that were submitted. In fact, his office dismissed the complaint without interviewing a single one of the 100 workers who helped draft it. How he determined that $7.25 constitutes a living wage remains a mystery and the only answer these workers received was a brief two paragraph letter addressed to Rickman.
“The Department of Workforce Development, Equal Rights Division, has reviewed your complaint and the exhibits attached, and has considered the factors enumerated in Section 104.o4, Wisc. Stats.,” wrote Robert Rodriguez of the Equal Rights Division. “The department has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.”
In other words, $7.25 is a living wage simply because Walker’s office says so.
On November 4, Wisconsin voters will — for the third time — decide whether or not they want Scott Walker as governor. According to projections, he may very well beat Democrat Mary Burke and further his agenda to turn the previously left-leaning Wisconsin into one of the most conservative states in the nation.
It’s a scary thought. Walker has already signed a (legally contended) bill that requires abortion providers to gain admitting rights to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic (a real fuck you to the women of rural Wisconsin) and for women seeking abortions to obtain an ultrasound prior to the procedure. He is vehemently, frighteningly anti-abortion, having once told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he would ban abortion entirely, even in cases of incest and rape. Not that you’d know his extremist views from his 2014 campaign:“I’m pro-life,” Walker begins in an ad explaining his anti-abortion bill. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that the decision whether or not to end a pregnancy is an agonizing one. That’s why I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options. The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”
Walker’s pandering words are a blatant misrepresentation of his true views. While the bill he’s discussing doesn’t flat-out ban abortion, it is a step in that direction. His actions have made it clear that if it were entirely up to him, every woman would be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to full-term. And worse still, as mother Britany Ferguson proves, he will do nothing to help a woman care for her child once it’s born. (By the way, it was also under Walker that over 200,000 women, children and families were cut from Wisconsin’s health-care reimbursement program.)
If it were up to Scott Walker, the upcoming election would not be a fair one. Wisconsin’s Republican party has been working hard to institute a voter-ID law that would ensure that hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents would not be able to vote at the polls this November. It’s also worth noting that voter-ID laws also happen to disproportionately effect people of color (most of whom vote Democrat), not that — when it comes to Walker — this should surprise us. Thankfully, the Supreme Court, as of Thursday, has blocked the voter-ID law from going into effect in time for this election.
Regardless of the SCOTUS’ decision, Walker and his cronies have proven time and time again that they are not afraid to play dirty and will not hesitate to step on the disenfranchised if it helps them carry out their right-wing agenda. In four short years, they have committed countless assaults on women’s, workers’ and civil rights. Who knows what they’ll do — and who they’ll hurt — with four more.
Image via Getty.