The Destruction of Progressive Wisconsin

By adding the Civil Service bill, Mr. Walker brings Wisconsin closer to the achievement of a long-sought goal of the libertarian right: universal “at-will employment.” Unlike union workers or state employees, whose collective bargaining agreements or Civil Service rules generally require employers to demonstrate “just cause” for them to be fired, at-will employees can be terminated at any time for any reason. At-will employment is promoted by the Heritage Foundation and American Legislative Exchange Council, which disseminates model bills to state legislators benefiting its corporate members and conservative private backers.

When Scott Walker was an assemblyman and ALEC member in the 1990s, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison-based watchdog group focused on corporate influence in government, ALEC adopted a bill called the At-Will Employment Act for state legislators to use as a template. In the past 20 years, many states, including Tennessee, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Kansas have eroded job-security protections for Civil Service workers, mirroring key aspects of ALEC’s model.

ALEC’s role was more explicit in 2011, when Jan Brewer, the former governor of Arizona, gave a keynote address at an ALEC conference indicating she would “reform” her state’s Civil Service. Several months later, she signed a bill (introduced in the Legislature by an ALEC member) that closely tracked with ALEC’s model and stripped Arizona’s state workers of virtually all Civil Service protections.