UNION GROVE - The government workers union is threatening to boycott numerous businesses here for declining to display a poster stating their support for "workers rights."
Many Union Grove businesses Tuesday received a letter from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Each of them declined to display a sign stating, "This business supports workers rights" - with a prominent AFSCME logo below that. As a result, the union threatened them with a "public boycott."
The fact that many other businesses got the same letter is little consolation for Dawn Bobo, owner of Village Dollar store, 1000 Main St., which she opened 1 1/2 years ago.
"I'm a new business, and I need to concentrate on issues that won't offend half of my customers," she said Wednesday. "I work 60 hours a week, and I don't get any of the benefits that (union members) get."
Several weeks ago, Bobo said, five female union members showed her the poster and asked her to display it in her front window.
"I said I can't put up any type of signage for either side," she recalled. "They said, ‘No problem,' they were all smiles."
But Tuesday shop owners got the letter from AFSCME Council 24 Field Rep. Jim Parrett, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
"It is unfortunate that you have chosen not to support public workers rights in Wisconsin," it began.
"These signs simply said, ‘This business supports workers rights,' a simple, subtle and we feel noncontroversial statement given the facts at this time," Parrett wrote.
He listed the government institutions AFSCME represents in the area, including Southern Wisconsin Center and several corrections facilities.
After making a case that government workers are badly treated by Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans' recent moves to remove most collective bargaining rights, Parrett wrote: "With that, we'd ask that you reconsider taking a sign and stance to support public employees in this community.
"Failure to do so will leave us no choice but do a public boycott of your business. And sorry, neutral means ‘no' to those who work for the largest employer in the area and are union members."
Few signs visible
Parrett ended his letter by offering a phone number merchants could call to get off the boycott list.
In Union Grove, that must be a long list. The union thanked shops it counted as supporters, listing 27 local businesses. But merchants and The Journal Times could only find two Main Street businesses displaying the AFSCME sign Wednesday.
One was Raceway Food Mart, 1645 Main St. Owner Hushyar Singh said one of his workers told union members the store would take a sign.
"I will just keep it a week or two, because I don't want to have so many signs in the window," said Singh, who clearly had no passion for the issue.
Glen Cayemberg, co-owner of Grove Insurance, 815 Main St., said they got the boycott letter even though they'd never even been asked to display the poster. He would've said no anyway.
"As a business owner, your business needs to remain neutral, and you're not in a position to hop on either side of the fence," Cayemberg said.
Jeff Kieslich, owner of Ruma Sports, 1000 Main St., said he called Parrett after getting the letter. "I was just disappointed; I didn't like the tone of the letter," Kieslich said. "To me, it bordered on strong-arm tactics.
"I have every right to keep silent," he added. "It does me no good to put a sign like that in my window."
Kieslich said Parrett told him in that phone call, "‘We just sent you that letter because we wanted to give you one more chance.' He was kind of smug about the whole thing."
The threatened boycott may backfire, based on what merchants heard Wednesday. "We have actually had quite a response the other way today," Kieslich said.
Nancy Washburn, owner of Main St. Market, 1002 Main St., said the same. "Instead of a downturn in our business, we have seen an increase in support from the community around us," she said.
"The residents and business owners are making an extra effort to spend their money in our community to show their support for our willingness to remain neutral, which the union deems fit to punish us for."