Open letter to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Inc.
8418 Excelsior Drive
Madison, Wisconsin 53717

cc: Governor Walker, Senator Fitzgerald, House Speaker Fitzgerald

James Robson, President
Stan Woodworth, Vice President


The current Wisconsin budget crisis has caught the attention of many people outside of Wisconsin. The proposed budget, as it stands right now, seems to many of us as an unprecedented and undeserved attack on one of the most basic rights of organized labor: the right to collectively bargain. Customers at our store have been asking about what they can do. Some have even brought up their willingness and desire to boycott Wisconsin products if this current budget passes.

You know me. You know I have been a long-time supporter of Wisconsin cheese and that we carry a lot of it, especially for a California supermarket. I have no wish to stop carrying any of your numerous cheeses that we have on our shelves. (It varies of course, but right now we have about 40 different cheeses from about 15 Wisconsin cheesemakers.) I love Wisconsin cheese.

However, if this current budget passes it will make Wisconsin a bad word among many people who shop and who work in our store. Since you are in the marketing business, you can well understand that the kind of result a political decision like this can have in many of the cities that sell a lot of specialty cheese. You know that it doesn’t take much of a decline in sales for a perishable food to lose its place on the shelves; that’s the nature of the business. It doesn’t even require an organized boycott, just the change in consumer perception from Wisconsin being a “friendly state of cheese lovers” to “that mean-spirited state that hates unions and teachers”. Because I care about Wisconsin dairy farmers on a personal and professional basis, I do not want to see that happen.

For the good of Wisconsin cheesemakers I personally ask that you put what pressure you can bear on the legislature to not pass a budget that strips organized labor of their rights. This is an issue that goes beyond Democrat or Republican and beyond state lines. Taking a budget crisis (that many see as manufactured for this purpose) as an excuse to end the right to collectively bargain is wrong.

This is not a threat. I am not speaking for my workplace because, as a cooperative, my workplace is a democracy and does not have an official position on this issue. What I am saying is that the Wisconsin state budget has ceased to be a local issue. What happens next may very well affect every business in the state. Since Wisconsin’s most visible business is cheese, I think you owe it to your members to take a stand against this budget.

Thank you,
Gordon Edgar
Cheese Buyer

18 responses to “Open letter to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

  1. That’s a powerful letter. And it’s true. Thanks for writing it.

  2. I particularly liked how you calmly explained that this is just a reality of business, not a boycott threat or anything, and how this will have very long-term and far-reaching consequences.

    EXCELLENT letter.

    • Thanks. And yet, immediately, people started interpreting it as a boycott threat. I appreciate that you read it the way it was intended.

  3. Just out of curiosity, is there a chance your workplace will have an official position in the future? Or do you have an official position to not take official positions like that?

    • We have a policy about boycotts that is very detailed and not quick, requiring a certain number of signatures to get the ball rolling, period of debate, then ballot vote where more than a 2/3 majority of members must vote in favor of a boycott for it to take place. Because of these requirements any potential boycott by us is very unlikely.

  4. Well boycotting WI cheese would surely solve the situation for employees, unions and the state? Let’s cast our non-resident vote by refusing to buy WI beer? Ludicrous! When the the unions were being stripped of their power in Detroit did we all refuse to buy American? Do we refuse to buy from China b/c of their track record? Boycotts hurt the workers as much as the people we want to help.

    • Hey, I love Wisconsin cheese. I wish we could get more of that great Wisconsin beer!

      If you read this as me calling for a boycott, then you misinterpreted my meaning. (Though I do think, historically speaking, there are times when workers have put their immediate interests aside for a bigger goal.) If Wisconsin-based unions called for a boycott, I reserve my right to change my mind, but I don’t see that being talked about.

      My main point is that bad, mean-spirited politics have unintended consequences. If The Wisconsin state legislature goes through with this, there will be blowback. Cheese is the obvious target since it is so aligned with the state. I am just stating the obvious: this issue is no longer local so tread carefully.

  5. Pingback: Open Letter to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board - Gordon Edgar at Chelsea Green

  6. Great letter–Kevin, I get your point, but people do need to see how their dollars work. Isn’t it a core belief of Milton Friedman, that capitalism is a democracy in which people vote with their dollars (well, I wouldn’t call it a democracy, but he did). If the underpinning of the State economy is based on the exploitation of workers (and a bill making WI a Right to Work state is in the pipeline), then proponents of fair trade need to consider that in their decisions. A key concept of Fair Trade, in my mind, is that our purchasing decisions do have consequences. I agree that any boycott talk will need to come from more than bloggers such as myself, but the Taft-Hartley Act also limits the ability of labor unions to engage in solidarity actions.
    Gordon summed it up very well. The current Wisconsin brand is based on wholesomeness and happy cheesemakers all living in replicas of nordic goodness in peace and harmony–if that dynamic changes, it could have real ramifications.

  7. This is a totally right-on and well-crafted letter. If people take it as something other than what it is, e.g. a boycott threat, they must be determined to get a certain message no matter what you say. There is a threat here, but it’s not coming from you–it’s coming from the PR disaster the Walker administration is creating (to say nothing of that whole pesky issue of justice for people who devote their lives to the public good). You’re just telling it like it is.

  8. Spot on dude. As a 25 year union member I shudder to think about what may happen in Wisconsin and the ripple effect across the country. Let’s hope the Governor there comes to his senses.

  9. Great letter. Yet the issue has become one about a governor and a majority controlled legislature that would rather grandstand on matters extraneous to the critical budget crisis they have been entrusted to resolve. Employees have made clear their willingness to negotiate money. While you make your case clearly and fairly Gordon, I too have made my decision, and until the governor strips his budget of the assault on workers, I will not buy Wisconsin cheese. Is there collateral damage? Possibly. (Including me! I won’t be able to have something I want!) That’s politics. The Wisconsin Dairy Association was among Walker’s biggest campaign supporters. The governor’s conversation with Ian Murphy, aka David Koch, was damning. The governor made clear his lack of respect for our democratic principles. Maybe the WDA can call off its dog. Maybe Koch can call off his dog.

  10. Wow, awesome! As a former Wisconsinite and lifelong cheese lover, this really hit home. Thanks for putting this out there.

  11. Quentine Solamar

    So, don’t eat are cheese. It just binds many people up, anyways. My question, what if Walkers budget bill works and makes Wisconsin fiscally stronger? Why do people hate corporations? I have a corp with 3 employees making enough to get by. I can’t afford anymore taxes. I bring home less the my employees, not complaining, stating facts. If this doesn’t work, it’s called a vote. And, anyways, California is broker than WI. A retired Chips officer, who relocated to WI because it is cheaper, gets IOU’s from California with his pension check. Maybe you guys need a gov. with balls of cheese.

    • Ha. I love that you come to a cheese blog and put down cheese.

      I think you’re making the same mistake a lot of folks (left or right) make when they talk about “corporations”. The reason people hate corporations (and I think you could probably find this information out other ways than asking me, in fact I think you already have an opinion about this) is because the big corporations (like the Koch Brothers’ corporation) has huge political influence, doesn’t contribute enough in taxes compared to the obscene amount of money they make and have made themselves rich at the expense of many communities. (Since I’m up in Oregon right now, I’ll mention Georgia Pacific and the way that logging was increased and increased until there was no more work. That was blamed on environmentalists in the same way the “budget crisis” is being blamed on unions). No one is really talking about the corporations like you or I work at (as a cooperative, we are incorporated in the state of California as a worker-owned cooperative) or if they are, they are misguided.

      Unions counterbalance (to a limited extent) the first of these three things and the other two don’t apply. There is no budget crisis in Wisconsin. This is manufactured in order to hurt the Walker’s political enemies.

      The reason California is in such bad shape, btw, is because of Prop 13, not because the teachers have a union. Taxes need to be increased, nationwide, on the richest people so that they can pay back into the communities some of the wealth they extracted. You’ll notice that these people don’t seem to be hurting in this recession. Cut backs and lack of services only apply to people who work for a living like us.

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