Mayor Soglin was the first of the gubernatorial candidates to oppose Act 10. On Saturday February 12, 2011 he joined a group of University of Wisconsin graduate teaching and research assistants in a march to the state capitol in opposition to Scott Walker’s proposal to destroy public employee unions.
The following week, he made repeated public statements in opposition to Act 10 including multiple posts on his blog, Waxingamerica, the first post going up on Sunday, the following day:
"The way to improve public services and reduce costs is to trust public employees and give them the opportunity to do quality work."
This was not the reaction of at least one other candidate in the Democratic primary for Governor. From Politifact:
(Mahlon) Mitchell was effusive in his praise of Walker in a statement he issued on Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin letterhead on Feb. 11, 2011, a week before he protested Act 10 in Madison:
We are pleased that Gov. Walker recognizes the critical work that we do protecting the residents of our communities. We are there 24 hours every day, 7 days every week. We do our jobs regardless of conditions that we face.
We also know that all public employees across this great state are hardworking, dedicated individuals. We all make sacrifices every day but the Governor recognizes that what we do is unique and we applaud him for recognizing that.
Governor Walker from the time he was a State Representative has demonstrated that he understands what we do and why we do it and why it is so important to our communities.
We know that state and local governments are facing tough economic times. We look forward to working with Gov. Walker, state legislators of both political parties, local officials, and other public sector unions in an effort to help solve the severe economic problems that our state is facing.
Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Mitchell’s campaign, said in an email that the statement came before union officials "understood the full consequences of the legislation and the devastating effect that it would have on Wisconsin's workers."
"As soon as the bill came out and they saw really what the effects would be, they came out against it," Smith said. "You can’t say he wasn’t one of the leaders against Act 10 when he was out there day after day after day fighting it."
Eleven days after the statement, Mitchell said at a Capitol news conference that firefighters would be willing to take the same pension and health care changes as other unions if the governor would drop his push to limit collective bargaining rights.
Elected as mayor in April of 2011, Mayor Soglin lead the way in finding new protections for workers by instituting the “employee handbooks” which codified the defunct labor agreements in the post-Act 10 world.
Paul Soglin on Act 10
There a number of actions by the Walker Administration that need to be reversed. They are all important. They include weakening of environmental regulations and the DNR, obstructions to democracy like Voter ID and limiting voting hours, the decision to fight the Affordable Health Care Act, assaults on a woman’s right to choose her health alternatives, stripping local control from school boards and city councils, and of course destroying protections for Wisconsin workers in the enactment of Act 10.
Act 10 was devastating. It did more than destroy public employee unions. Valuable, experienced teachers and public works employees retired depriving us of their experience and institutional knowledge. It left many public agencies with no process to deal with employee grievances and discipline.
When Act 10 was introduced, Wisconsin had one of the lowest ratios of public employees per capita among the states; the quality of Wisconsin public service was among the best. We are still good but the long range prospects are questionable as a result on Act 10: the best and the brightest are no longer as enthusiastic to stay in Wisconsin and teach and serve.
People ask me if I support repealing Act 10. The answer is not that simple. We have to do more. We need to restore full collective bargaining rights for public and private employees, strengthen the role of unions, and end the race to the bottom.
Many Wisconsinites were unhappy that they did not have the pensions and health insurance received by public employees. The solution was not to undermine public employees but to improve everyone else’s benefits.
Leadership is instinctively knowing what to do. Wisconsin needs a governor who will do the right thing when there is no playbook.