A new protection racket in Wisconsin?

Quick — we need Barack Obama’s bullying task force in Wisconsin statThe AFL-CIO has launched a campaign of intimidation against Wisconsin businesses, demanding that owners prominently display a flyer declaring support for the unions against Scott Walker’s budget-repair law.  If union members don’t see the flyer, the AFL-CIO declares that union members will boycott the business and that neutrality is not an option:

Dated March 28, 2011, the letter is addressed to “DEAR UNION GROVE AREA BUSINESS OWNER/MANAGER,” in Racine County. And it begins with this warm greeting: “It is unfortunate that you have chosen ‘not’ to support public workers rights in Wisconsin. In recent past weeks you have been offered a sign(s) by a public employee(s) who works in one of the state facilities in the Union Grove area. These signs simply said ‘This Business Supports Workers Rights,’ a simple, subtle and we feel non-controversial statement given the facts at this time.”

We doubt “subtle” is the word a business owner would use to describe this offer he is being told he can’t refuse.

The letter is signed by Jim Parrett, the “Field Rep.” for Council 24 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which is the most powerful union in the AFL-CIO. The letter presents a litany of objections to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s changes to benefits and public union collective bargaining power, describing them as “things that make life working in a 24-7 facility tolerable.”

The missive concludes by noting that, “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 [sic] 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.”

So even businesses that stay neutral in the political battle are considered the enemy and will be punished. Charming stuff, and especially coming from a union that claims (wrongly) to be losing its constitutional rights. Free speech for others apparently isn’t all that important.

This actually seems more sinister than the Wall Street Journal supposes, especially after the campaign of intimidation seen in the state’s capitol and the attempts to shut down the legislature.  Why do unions need a sign in the window at all?  It looks more like a way to mark territory, and a warning that the kind of tactics that the unions brought to Madison could be deployed against businesses in Racine County, and elsewhere.

Nice business ya got there, Cheesehead.  Hate to see anything happen to it, IYKWIMAITYD.  Sure ya don’t want dis flyer?

There is nothing illegitimate about boycotts and protests, as long as they are conducted peacefully and don’t obstruct access to businesses and state institutions.  The track record in Madison speaks for itself, and the demand to fly the flag by the AFL-CIO could not be more clear.

Thankfully, Wisconsin business owners are made of sterner stuff:

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.”

Wisconsin voters need to understand that the fundamental issue in this fight is control of public policy.  Will that remain in the hands of voters, or will they allow it to be seized by the same bullies who now threaten private-sector businesses and who tried to shut down representative democracy in Madison over the last few weeks?

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