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Wisconsin anti-union bill is sent to governor

The state Assembly, as expected, follows the Senate in approving legislation rescinding most public workers' collective bargaining rights. The move is expected to fuel similar bills in other states and to galvanize unions and their Democratic allies.

March 11, 2011|By Ryan Haggerty and Richard Simon, Tribune Newspapers

Reporting from Madison, Wis., and Washington — Stoking Republican efforts to check union power across the country, Wisconsin's state Assembly sent Gov. Scott Walker a bill he has sought to limit the collective bargaining rights of government workers.

The vote, coming after another emotional day at the Capitol, is expected to intensify bitter fights in legislatures from Idaho to Indiana, emboldening other budget-cutting Republican governors to press ahead with anti-union legislation.


FOR THE RECORD:
Wisconsin unions: In the March 11 LATExtra section, a question and answer box about a bill in the Wisconsin legislature concerning labor rules for government workers said the legislation would limit collective bargaining to base wages, and performance and other supplemental pay. In fact, performance and other supplemental pay, as well as overtime, would not be subject to collective bargaining under the legislation. —

But it also is likely to galvanize unions and their Democratic allies. Since Republican senators in Wisconsin approved the bill Wednesday night, the state's Democratic Party took in more than $300,000 in donations.

Opponents of the bill packed the balconies in the Assembly and began jeering as soon as representatives started voting, making it almost impossible to hear the result. Boos and chants of "shame!" broke out as the bill passed, 53 to 42, with one abstention, culminating weeks of heated debate that has brought tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol in Madison and sent Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state to try to prevent the bill's passage.

Protester Thomas Bird, a University of Wisconsin graduate student, predicted Republicans would pay a price for their actions. "The next time they face election, they are done!" he yelled after the vote.

"This was our only option to move forward and avoid layoffs," said Rep. Scott Suder, the Assembly majority leader. "While some don't like the outcome and are going to continue to protest, this is the right thing to do to make sure that Wisconsin's fiscal house is in order."

As the bill advanced in Wisconsin, a crowd of more 7,000 gathered outside the statehouse in Indiana to protest anti-union legislation there. Similar bills have advanced in Ohio and Idaho and are under consideration in Kansas, Tennessee and other states, though national polls show a solid majority of Americans oppose efforts to limit state employees' bargaining rights.

"We're now up to 22 states," said Robert Bruno, professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois. "It's almost an epidemic."

Legislation introduced in Texas this week takes aim at a tactic used by Indiana and Wisconsin Democrats to stall anti-union legislation: fleeing the state to deny Republicans a quorum. The Texas proposal would determine the two-thirds quorum requirement based only on lawmakers in the state at the time.

Opponents of the Wisconsin legislation are taking their fight to court, contending that Republicans violated the state's open-meetings act in the vote, a charge that Republicans dispute.

Recall campaigns are being pursued against both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Richard Hurd, a Cornell University professor of labor and industrial relations, said Republicans in other states contemplating similar measures would probably watch the recall efforts closely.

"It may energize the right, and it may give them the confidence to be more aggressive, but those in the Republican Party who are a little more cautious may want to wait and see how it plays out," he said.

In the Wisconsin battle, both parties resorted to legislative maneuvers to get under each other's skin. Republicans passed rules that would take away parking spots from the missing Democratic senators and restrict their staff members' access to copy machines. Assembly Democrats held 130 hours of round-the-clock "listening sessions" to keep the Capitol open to protesters.

In Washington, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the Wisconsin legislation was mobilizing public and private sector unions nationwide.

"Thank you, Scott Walker," Trumka said at the National Press Club. "We should have invited him here today to receive the Mobilizer of the Year award."

Others predicted the opposite effect. Chris Edwards, an economist at the libertarian Cato Institute, predicted that Wisconsin would "kick-start a movement toward public sector union reform."

The Wisconsin measure had been stalled since Feb. 17, when all 14 Democratic senators fled to Illinois. But on Wednesday, Republicans removed financial provisions from the bill, which meant the vote did not require as many senators present.

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