Huffpost Politics

Wisconsin Union Bill Passes State Assembly

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WISCONSIN UNION BILL

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin lawmakers voted Thursday to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from the state's public workers, ending a heated standoff over labor rights and delivering a key victory to Republicans who have targeted unions in efforts to slash government spending nationwide.

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The state's Assembly passed Gov. Scott Walker's explosive proposal 53-42 without any Democratic support and four no votes from the GOP. Protesters in the gallery erupted into screams of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as Republican lawmakers filed out of the chamber and into the speaker's office.

The state's Senate used a procedural move to bypass missing Democrats and move the measure forward Wednesday night, meaning the plan that delivers one of the strongest blows to union power in years now requires only Walker's signature to take effect.

He says he'll sign the measure, which he introduced to plug a $137 million budget shortfall, as quickly as possible - which could be as early as Thursday.

"We were willing to talk, we were willing to work, but in the end at some point the public wants us to move forward," Walker said before the Assembly's vote.

Walker's plan has touched off a national debate over labor rights for public employees and its implementation would be a key victory for Republicans, many of whom have targeted unions amid efforts to slash government spending. Similar bargaining restrictions are making their way through Ohio's Legislature and several other states are debating measures to curb union rights in smaller doses.

In Wisconsin, the proposal has drawn tens of thousands of protesters to the state Capitol for weeks of demonstrations and led 14 Senate Democrats to flee to Illinois to prevent that chamber from having enough members present to pass a plan containing spending provisions.

But a special committee of lawmakers from the Senate and Assembly voted Wednesday to take all spending measures out of the legislation and the full Senate approved it minutes later, setting up Thursday's vote in the Assembly.

Walker has repeatedly argued that collective bargaining is a budget issue, because his proposed changes would give local governments the flexibility to confront the budget cuts needed to close the state's $3.6 billion deficit. He has said without the changes, he may have needed to lay off 1,500 state workers and make other cuts to balance the budget.

The measure forbids most government workers from collectively bargaining for wage increases beyond the rate of inflation unless approved by referendum. It also requires public workers to pay more toward their pensions and double their health insurance contribution, a combination equivalent to an 8 percent pay cut for the average worker.

Police and firefighters are exempt.

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Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bill to end collective bargaining for public employees passed the state senate on Wednesday. In reaction, Wisconsin high school students are planning a nationwide walkout in order to send a unified message in support of public education.

A Facebook event labeled Nationwide Student Walkout already has more than 5,000 people "attending." The group asks for the nationwide walkout to happen this Friday, March 11, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. local time.

Read more here.

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AP reports:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he is certain support will grow for the new law that eliminates nearly all collective bargaining rights for public employees.

The governor signed the measure Friday. In an interview with The Associated Press, he said he has "no doubt" that support will build as the government becomes more efficient. He said public employees would still have civil-service protections.

Walker spoke about the law even as dozens of protesters shouted outside his Capitol office in opposition to it. The proposal passed the state senate and Assembly earlier this week.

More here.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:

Less than two days after Wisconsin Senate Republicans took to seedy if not crafty parliamentary maneuvers to pass an anti-collective bargaining bill, the Democratic party is up with ads targeting individual members.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee released an ad on Friday attacking Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Wis.) for being a doormat in Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to get his budget-related measure passed into law.

“We expect pins to get bowled over,” the spot goes. “Pies to get rolled. But we certainly don’t expect our senators to get flattened. Last month, Senator Olsen said eliminating collective bargaining is, quote, ‘pretty radical.’

Read the rest here.

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reports:

Far away from the large protests at the Wisconsin statehouse, a group of about 60 people -- students, teachers, nurses and others -- met at 6:00 a.m. at Riverside High School in Milwaukee on Friday morning, the first step in their march all the way to Madison (approximately 80 miles).

The walk will take three days, ending at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday in Madison. Today, the group is walking about 12 or 13 hours. Tomorrow will be eight hours, and Sunday will be six hours. While some people are going to be making the full trek, others will be joining and leaving along the way.

The Huffington Post spoke with Christopher Fons, a public school teacher who came up with the idea for the march, at noon CT. Fons is part of the group People Organizing Wisconsin for Education and Workers Rights (POWER). They had already walked approximately 20 miles and were excited that it was a "balmy" 35 degrees.

Fons first conceived of the march about a week ago, when he was teaching his U.S. history class about Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association. In 1965, Chavez organized a historic farmworkers march from Delano, Calif. to Sacramento -- 340 miles.

"It's about the journey," said Fons. "There's been a lot of large demonstrations in Capitol, but we just thought we should try to dramatize this in a different way. I'm in complete support of the large rallies, but I just think we need to be doing other strategies to raise consciousness."

A few stands have popped up along the march route providing coffee and other refreshments, which have, according to Fons, really helped the morale of the participants. But when The Huffington Post spoke with Fons, they were in Waukesha County, a more Republican area where he said the reception had not always been quite as friendly.

"The message is about not allowing collective bargaining to be ended and about defending public education in the state -- to try to defend this idea that we have the Wisconsin idea," said Fons. "The Wisconsin idea is an egalitarian society that has education at its center, for everybody."

Since the beginning of the controversy, teachers have been an integral part of the protests against Gov. Scott Walker's (R) budget repair bill, with many public schools shut down for days because so many teachers have gone to Madison to protest.

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The Washington Post reports:

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a former businessman and now a freshman senator, held a conference call Thursday afternoon with a small group of bloggers. For a freshman, he's entirely fluid on the issues and easily navigates between specifics and larger themes.

I asked him about Wisconsin. Why did Gov. Scott Walker take so long to pull out the "fiscal" elements and pass the legislation without a quorum? Johnson first made clear that he and the governor believe this "is not about individual workers . . . but about rebalancing the equation" so that the taxpayers' interests are being protected. As for the long-in-coming resolution, Johnson explained that the governor wanted the collective bargaining provision and the rest of the cost-cutting measures "tied" because they were all part of the effort to close the state's budget deficit. But it became evident the Democrats weren't budging. He said that one Democratic senator even requested an absentee ballot for the spring election. At that point Walker moved forward on the bill.

Read more here.

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William Alden:

MILWAUKEE -- Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to a crowd of demonstrators in Milwaukee Thursday evening, laying out a strategy to oppose the anti-union rights legislation that state lawmakers passed hours earlier.

He focused on the upcoming State Supreme Court election, urging voters to choose a justice who would protect workers’ rights to collectively bargain. Speaking to a crowd that included teachers and public school students, Jackson said Milwaukee has become as important a battleground as Madison.

“All eyes are on Milwaukee,” he said from the steps of Milwaukee County Courthouse, as the crowd cheered. “The cameras are in Madison, the votes are in Milwaukee.”

The election on April 5 could swing the ideological leaning of the seven-justice State Supreme Court. Justice David Prosser, one of the four-justice unofficial conservative majority, sees his term expire this year. His opponent, Assistant State Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, would likely break that majority. If a legal challenge to the new legislation arrives before the Supreme Court, that shift of power could be crucial.

“We’re gonna see the same crowds in Milwaukee that we see in Madison,” declared Rev. Willie Brisco, president of Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope, which sponsored the rally. “This is just the beginning.”

Jackson, a longtime advocate for worker’s rights, had been in Madison earlier that day. He arrived at the Courthouse in Milwaukee two hours after the rally began, wearing a black hat and overcoat, while the crowd chanted, “Jesse, Jesse!” After climbing the courthouse steps and taking the microphone, he compared the current political struggle to the demonstrations that preceded the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“This is what democracy looks like,” he said.

Jackson spoke in support of teachers, who would lose collective bargaining rights if the bill is ratified. The teachers -- and students -- in the audience roared their appreciation.

One student, Carlo Goodger, a 12-year-old 7th grader in the Milwaukee Public School system, had addressed the crowd minutes before Jackson arrived.

“We’re proud to be from MPS,” Goodger said, as demonstrators exploded into cheers. “We don’t like what Scott Walker is doing to us.”

If the bill becomes law, class sizes could expand. Teachers could face wage cuts or layoffs.

Goodger, whose mother is a teacher at his school, and whose mother’s parents were also teachers, granted HuffPost an interview after his speech.

“Not only do I know how it will feel for my mom, but I know how it will feel for me, also,” he said. “I’m gonna make a change as much as I can.”

“I grew up a Milwaukee public student, and I’m gonna die a Milwaukee public student.”

His mother, Lucia Medico, 35, who teaches special education, said the teacher’s union, Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, has encouraged members to be “more passive” in their response to the bill, and to “wait it out.”

“But we as teachers want to make an impact,” she said. “Waiting it out has brought this.”

Teachers at the rally said they hoped to bring the energy of Madison to Milwaukee, and to encourage more people to support their cause. But they found themselves in the awkward position of not wanting to stick their necks out too far, for fear that they could face consequences, especially if they lose union rights. Tricia Ward, 35, who teaches special education, requested that the name of her school be withheld.

“That’s how scared everyone is,” she said. “When this collective bargaining ends, they can do whatever they want.”

WATCH Rev. Jackson's speech below (credit to Dr. Todd Alan Price, of National-Louis University):

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The Daily Caller reports on Jesse Jackson's statements on the Wisconsin anti-union bill's passage:

“More health care for more Americans is not as hurtful as less education and less health care and fewer jobs,” Jackson said. “Maybe what you see here is the rise of hurt and people are acting out their democratic rights and sharing their pain. And they want to be heard and I feel that when they’re steamrolled as they were in the Assembly and as they are in the Senate, people are going to fight back against the governor hears them and engages in democracy and not ramrod democracy. It simply will not work whether Cairo or Madison, it will not work.”

Jackson said pro-union legislators were denied the ability to vote on the issue and forecasted a “rebellion” to come within the next month.

Full story here.

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Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate has issued the following statement on the anti-union bill's passage:

"It is a shameful day for Wisconsin. Ultimately, our working families will have their day and Scott Walker's victory will ring as hollow as his pledges to their well-being. Today, the Koch Brothers can pop some champagne. But know that our total focus now is on recall."

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The Wisconsin State Capitol will close at 6 p.m. CST today, WKOW.com reported on Twitter.

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Wisconsin municipalities are already mounting legal challenges against the controversial anti-union bill that passed first in the state Senate and now in the Assembly.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz asserted on his blog that the bill's passage violates the state's open meetings law and has engaged City Attorney Mike May:

I've asked Mike to join any action he deems appropriate in the courts this morning to reverse the Senate's illegal action.

To quote Mike's email to alders and I this morning:

"The Office of the City Attorney (in compliance with State law) insists on 24 hours notice for any meeting, or adding any matter to an agenda, unless there is no way that 24 hours notice could have been given. Mere convenience or inadvertence is insufficient to meet the less than 24-hour notice. This is necessary to be in compliance with the Open Meetings Law. It is an essential element of government in Wisconsin.

"Today's action does not meet that test. It does not comply with Wisconsin Law.

"The action taken today will be struck down if challenged in court."

Meanwhile, Dane County has also begun taking action, reports Madison's WKOW.com:

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and County Board Chair Scott McDonell have directed Dane County attorneys to pursue legal action related to state Senate Republicans passing the budget repair bill without Democrats present.

More here.

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reports:

Dealt a major setback Wednesday night in a high-stakes battle over union rights in Wisconsin, labor leaders nevertheless insisted that they would emerge from the three-week long saga energized and eager to continue fighting.

Hours after Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) and his Republican allies in the state Senate took nearly everyone by surprise and pushed through a stand-alone bill stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights, labor officials pledged to ramp up efforts to recall Republicans and challenge the legislation in court.

Only shortly before the vote took place, local news outlets reported that Republicans were splitting Walker's budget repair bill into two. While the Senate requires a quorum of 3/5 of its members to vote on fiscal statutes, just a majority is needed for other matters. Therefore, Senate Republicans broke off the most controversial portions -- including a proposal to strip away the collective bargaining rights of public employees -- into a separate piece of legislation that could be passed without Senate Democrats, who were still out of state.

Read more here.

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The LA Times reports that Freshman Representative Sean Duffy, who has largely kept his distance from the controversy over Walker's anti-union bill, will appear with the Wisconsin governor this weekend:

Duffy's spokesman, Daniel Son, confirmed Thursday that the congressman would attend the Lincoln Day Dinner at the invitation of the Ashland County Republican Party, and Ashland's Daily Press reports that Walker is also slated to attend the event.

"That's quite a coup to have the governor and congressman come up to northern Wisconsin and talk to people," Frank Kostka, chairman of the Bayfield County GOP, told the Daily Press. "We'd be even more excited if we didn't have this controversy to deal with."

Read the full story here.

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HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal reports:

The poll released this past weekend by a conservative Wisconsin think tank did more than indicate a preference for compromise among Wisconsin adults. It also includes evidence that the enthusiasm gap favoring Republicans in Wisconsin in 2010 has vanished.

The survey of 603 adults, conducted by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) between Feb. 27 and March 1, included a question asking respondents whether they are likely to vote in the 2012 elections. Poll respondents typically overstate their true voting intentions on these sorts of questions, and the WPRI survey is no exception: Nearly four out of five respondents (79 percent) said they are "almost certain to vote," while another 8 percent said they will "probably vote," even though the actual turnout among eligible adults in 2008 was 72.1 percent. Nevertheless, these responses provide a crude indicator of intentions, as those who say they intend to vote are more likely to turn out.

Read the rest here.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:

The chaos that accompanied Wednesday night’s abrupt passage of Gov. Scott Walker's (R-Wis.) controversial anti-collective bargaining legislation gave way on Thursday to a series of strategy sessions by aggrieved parties plotting out a response.

A cadre of labor groups, progressive institutions, and campaign arms began informally coordinating a comprehensive pushback that some described as even more critical than the legislative battle itself. The most dramatic of these moves is acceleration of a campaign to recall Wisconsin Republican state senators who ended up backing not only the collective bargaining bill but also the backdoor parliamentary maneuvers used to pass it.

Union officials and progressive activists on the ground in Wisconsin say that six specific lawmakers have been targeted for recall (before Wednesday night that number had been eight). Of those, three were considered top tier “gets:” Sen. Randy Hopper (District 18) who won his last election by 184 votes, Sen. Alberta Darling (District 8) who won her last election with 51 percent of the vote, and Sen. Dan Kapanke (District 32) who also won his last election with 51 percent of the vote, in a district where President Obama won 61 percent of the vote in 2008. The other three lawmakers on the list were Sen. Robert Cowles (District 2), Sheila Harsdorf (District 10), and Luther Olsen (District 14).

Read the whole thing here.

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The bill restricting the collective bargaining rights of unions has passed in the Wisconsin State Assembly by a vote of 53-42. Read more here.

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Via Mediaite comes Ann Coulter's appearance on "Hannity," in which she explains why Wisconsin Republicans need "tough love." Watch below.

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Assistant Senate Minority Leader David Hansen reacts to the anti-union bill's passage; take a look here.

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The president of the largest federation of unions in America had some surprising words for Wisconsin's governor, "The Atlantic" reports:

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has two words for Scott Walker: "Thank You."

The Wisconsin governor's plan to restrict collective-bargaining rights for government employees, which unexpectedly passed Wednesday night in the state Senate, has energized the labor movement in a way not seen in a generation, Trumka said.

"We probably should have invited him today to receive the Mobilizer of the Year award," Trumka said.

Full story here.

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The AP reports that the Wisconsin Justice Department is investigating threatening emails sent to GOP state senators:

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says all threatening messages have been forwarded to Capitol police.

The majority leader's spokesman, Andrew Welhouse, says the address of the person who sent one of the threatening e-mails was apparent, but police told him not to disclose it.

The e-mail said Fitzgerald and his "Republican dictators" must die because of their actions, presumably referring to GOP senators passing a bill removing most public employees' collective bargaining rights.

Full story here.

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On Thursday morning, the Capitol was closed for awhile, preventing protesters as well as employees who work in the statehouse from entering. The New York Times reports:

By preventing people from entering the capitol building Thursday morning, the police also denied entry to legislators, including at least two Democratic Assembly members — David Cullen and Elizabeth Coggs.

Mr. Cullen was turned away even after displaying his Assembly identification.

Asked why the officers did not allow him inside, Mr. Cullen said: “I don’t know. And they won’t answer why.”

Later, Mr. Cullen and Ms. Coggs could be seen climbing into the building through a first-floor window.

The police said hundreds of people had entered the building overnight and that for the moment, no one would be allowed to enter or leave the building

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University of Wisconsin-Madison student journalist Talya Minsberg was at the Capitol Thursday morning, where a large crowd gathered early on. Minsberg told The Huffington Post that there were hundreds of high school students, and a Madison West student said that "almost the whole school walked out."

WATCH the scene outside the statehouse:

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