Wisconsin Union Bill Passes State Assembly

03/10/2011 05:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • AP/The Huffington Post

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.

03/11/2011 4:40 PM EST

Wisconsin Student Walkouts

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.

03/11/2011 4:03 PM EST

Walker Signs Anti-Union Bill Into Law

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.

03/11/2011 4:01 PM EST

Democratic Party Releases First Post-Vote Ad Targeting Wisconsin Republicans

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.

03/11/2011 3:26 PM EST

Wisconsinites March From Milwaukee To Madison

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.

03/11/2011 3:25 PM EST

Sen. Ron Johnson Denounces 'Mob Rule'

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.

03/10/2011 6:42 PM EST

Jesse Jackson: Whether Cairo Or Madison, It Will Not Work

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.

03/10/2011 5:55 PM EST

'Hollow Victory'

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."

03/10/2011 5:52 PM EST

State Capitol Closing Early

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

03/10/2011 5:49 PM EST

Municipalities Pursuing Legal Challenges

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.

03/10/2011 5:36 PM EST

Labor Vows To Challenge Anti-Union Bill In Court

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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