Former Sen. Dale Schultz described the Act 10 saga as a major component of the end of bipartisanship in the state Legislature — a rift that still can be felt a decade later.
Schultz, a Richland Center Republican, was the only Republican in the state Senate to vote against Act 10. He recalled his disbelief when Gov. Scott Walker announced the legislation, which came just weeks after the Legislature passed several bills Walker requested to spark economic growth in the state.
“I remember ... my disbelief given the fact we had just passed legislation in a special session to help the governor get off to a good start,” Schultz said. “I couldn’t believe that it had happened.”
As tens of thousands of protesters swarmed the Capitol and Senate Democrats fled to Illinois to try to slow the bill’s progress, Schultz proposed what was ultimately a failed amendment that would have left several aspects of collective bargaining in place.
“For a while I think some people thought they might succeed, but then it became obvious that this was less about saving money and more about the ultra-conservative agenda that would destroy the tradition of labor unions and the progressive movement in Wisconsin,” he said.
Ultimately, Act 10 passed and Wisconsin, which had been the first state in the nation to enable collective bargaining for public employees, saw a growing divide between businesses and unions, Schultz said.
“I think the state benefited from labor peace and cooperation and I think we would have had a more prosperous state, a more just state, and I’m sad that we don’t have that right now,” he said.
What’s more, Schultz said Act 10, and the manner in which the Legislature pushed through the measure, led to “the end of bipartisanship” in the state Legislature.
“Problems are rarely partisan in nature,” he said. “They’re generally just problems and people want them solved. And when people can’t get together to solve them because the forces of tribalism are so severe you can’t even go out and have a cup of coffee with someone from the other side of the aisle, things just don’t get done.”
— Mitchell Schmidt
Editor's note: This story is part of a series marking the 10-year anniversary of Act 10. Click here for more stories from people who experienced the historic events firsthand.
Act 10: Full Coverage
- 10 years later, workers still seek a seat at the table despite lack of collective bargaining
- 10 years later: Wisconsin's Act 10 has produced labor savings, but at a cost
- Opinion: Act 10 was dark time with mixed results
- Looking back a decade later, 10 stories about Act 10
- Video highlights of the fight over Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union legislation
- Relive the story of the historic Act 10 protests in 20 photos
- Front pages from historic Scott Walker protests
Watch now: The Great Divide | 10 stories about Act 10
The most seismic political story of the last decade in Wisconsin began on Feb. 7, 2011, when Republican Gov. Scott Walker informed a gathering of cabinet members of plans to unilaterally roll back the power of public sector unions in the state. He "dropped the bomb," as Walker would describe it afterward, four days later.
The audacious proposal, to be known forever after as Act 10, required public employees to pay more for pension and health insurance benefits, but also banned most subjects of collective bargaining and placed obstacles to maintaining union membership.
The proposal laid bare the state's deep, at times intensely personal, political divisions as tens of thousands of protesters descended on the Capitol. The month-long, round-the-clock occupation drew international attention, but failed to stop the bill.
A decade later, the aftershocks of one of the biggest political earthquakes in Wisconsin history continue to be felt. Taxes have been held in check, and state finances have improved. But public unions are vastly diminished and the state is more politically divided than ever.
Here are 10 stories from people who experienced the historic events firsthand.
Former Sen. Mark Miller and Rep. Peter Barca tried to slow down passage of the legislation to force a compromise.
A decade later, former Gov. Scott Walker said he views Act 10 as one of the best things he's done for the state.
Susan Cohen wondered if the Capitol dome would come crumbling down from the cacophonous vibrations during the Act 10 protests.
Dale Schultz believes the state's ability to solve people's problems was greatly diminished by Act 10.
Longtime Madison Teachers Inc. leader John Matthews explains why collective bargaining still matters.
Former Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said his mission was communicating with protesters and voluntary compliance.
During the peak of the Act 10 protests, Ian's Pizza was delivering 1,200 pizzas a day to protesters.
Sen. Joan Ballweg saw the recall elections that resulted from Act 10 as the people getting a chance to have their say.
Michele Ritt remembered her son Josef Rademacher wearing a hole in the soles of his snow boots during the protests.