Firefighters, Police Officers Protest Wisconsin's Anti-Union Bill

Associated Press

Republicans who swept into power in state capitols this year with promises to cut spending and bolster the business climate now are beginning to usher in a new era of labor relations that could result in the largest reduction of power in decades for public employee unions.

Raw Video: Police, Firefighters March At Capitol

But as massive public protests and legislative boycotts in Wisconsin this week have shown, the Republican charge can be fraught with risk and unpredictable turns as politicians try to transform campaign ideas into action.

The question GOP governors and lawmakers are now facing is exactly how far they can go without encountering a backlash. Do they merely extract more money from school teachers, prison guards and office workers to help ease their states' budget problems? Or do they go at the very core of union power by abolishing the workers' right to bargain collectively? Do they try to impose changes by steamrolling the opposition, or by coming to the bargaining table?

"The consequences will be rolling forth for many, many years," said James Gregory, director of Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington. "The battle lines have been drawn and will be replicated around the country. This is going to be very tough for unions and public sector employees."

In Wisconsin, new Republican Gov. Scott Walker is going for it all - the elimination of collective bargaining rights for public employees plus sharp increases in their health care and pension payments. His plan advanced quickly to the Republican-led Senate, despite several days of protests that drew tens of thousands of demonstrators to the Capitol. Then Senate Democrats suddenly fled the state Thursday, bringing the legislative process to a halt.

Wisconsin was the first battleground. But it is unlikely to be the last.

A similar proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights drew throngs of protesters Thursday at the Ohio Capitol. Hundreds more have demonstrated in Tennessee and Indiana, where Republican-led committees have advanced bills to restrict bargaining rights for teachers' unions. And governors from Nevada to Florida have been touting the need to weaken union powers and extract more money from government employees to help balance out-of-whack budgets.

The confrontation comes as organized labor is reeling from a steady loss of members in the private sector. The public sector, with about 7.6 million members, now account for the majority of workers on union rolls, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among union leaders, a sense of crisis is growing. Labor is preparing to spend at least $30 million to fight anti-union legislation in dozens of states, according to internal budget numbers reviewed by The Associated Press. They're lobbying local officials, organizing public rallies, working phone banks and buying television and newspaper ads in a desperate attempt to swing public opinion.

"Plans are being put into place to silence workers, lower their wages, cut their benefits and increase the likelihood that they will suffer injuries and fatalities at work," said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "It is happening at a breakneck pace and too little attention is being paid."

Labor plans to spend large amounts of money on battles in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Unions see their goal as not just playing defense _ as opponents chip away at bargaining rights _ but going on offense to try to educate the public about the role of unions.

But last fall's midterm elections, which brought the defeat of many union-supported candidates and victories by pro-business Republican adversaries, show the difficulty the unions face in a climate shaped by the sour economy. In many states, Republican governors have blamed unions in part for the state budget crisis by negotiating flush benefit packages for public workers that have forced states to slash aid to schools, social services and important services.

Wisconsin's legislation, for example, not only would eliminate collective bargaining rights but also force public workers to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage _ increases the governor calls "modest" compared with those in the private sector. It's projected to save $300 million over the next two years to address a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, citing an estimated $8 billion budget gap, wants to restrict union rights for state workers and in townships, cities, counties, school districts and publicly funded universities. The legislation would generally eliminate salary schedules.

Kasich drew support Thursday from local tea party leader Ted Lyons, an electronics executive from Troy, Ohio, who said the proposed union changes are long overdue. "The labor unions have become so powerful now on a worldwide basis," Lyons said. "It's beyond just the benefits of the membership, it's about all the spending."

Lyons' voice was nearly drowned out by a crowd of protesters.

But some other Republicans are intentionally avoiding the sorts of confrontations that have sparked demonstrations.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the former chief operating officer of computer manufacturer Gateway Inc., won election last November on a similar pro-business agenda and also wants savings from public employee costs. But he's not seeking to abolish collective bargaining rights and has publicly denounced legislative efforts to strike at union membership and fees.

Snyder wants all government employees to pay 20 percent of their health care premiums. But he's not ramming the change at unions, and went out of his way Thursday to highlight his desire to work with them.

"As a practical matter, we're asking for $180 million in concessions, and we know we need to go bargain for that," Snyder told reporters Thursday after delivering his 2011-12 budget proposal. "We want to do that thoughtfully in partnership with our employees. We're not here to create threats."


Associated Press writers Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, and Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing, Mich., contributed to this report. Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Mo., and Hananel reported from Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Vic how is the Governor responsible when he was just elected to the office? Something sounds fishy about your statement that he "came in with a budget surplus" and enacted tax breaks and other things when he just got elected in November of 2010. The incumbent dem governor did not run for reelection. So he created this budget crisis in 1-2 months tops? I'm merely asking for an explanation.,_2010
I'll see your incomplete wiki source and raise you three complete ones.

...Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January. If the Legislature were simply to rescind Walker’s new spending schemes -- or delay their implementation until they are offset by fresh revenues -- the “crisis” would not exist.

In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the state’s budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.


Gross Balance $121,362,800
Less Required Statutory Balance -65,000,000
Net Balance, June 30 $56,362,800
Yes Jack I used a Wiki page. But it is fact that this governor was not elected until November or last year. And yes I viewed all three sources, two of which are opinion pieces, one of which comes from dailykos, a liberal version of Fox News, which is why I do not trust that one as far as I can throw a fire truck. Lines of interest from your only credible source left.
"Compared with the administration's reports, tax collections are projected to be $12.9
million lower in 2010-11, $139.7 million lower in 2011-12, and $50.2 million lower in 2012-13."
"Based upon the November/December reports, the administration's general fund condition
statement for 2010-11 reflects a gross ending balance (June 30, 2011) of $67.4 million and a net
balance (after consideration of the $65.0 million required statutory balance) of $2.4 million."
We also have to keep in mind Jack that this is all projections anyway. Actual numbers can and have look very different. So can someone please tell me how a governor with maybe 2 months in office max can have done all he is being blamed for doing?

Walker is refusing to provide full accounting of how much in additional costs his "scoop and toss" scheme would cost taxpayers down the road. Since his inauguration in early January, Walker has approved $140 million in new special interest spending that includes:

* $25 million for an economic development fund for job creation that still has $73 million due to a lack of job creation. Walker is creating a $25 million hole which will not create or retain jobs. [Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 1/7/11]
* $48 million for private health savings accounts, which primarily benefit the wealthy. A study from the federal Governmental Accountability Office showed the average adjusted gross income of HSA participants was $139,000 and nearly half of HSA participants reported withdrawing nothing from their HSA, evidence that it is serving as a tax shelter for wealthy participants. [Government Accountability Office, 4/1/08; Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 1/11/11]
* $67 million for a tax shift plan, so ill-conceived that at-best the benefit provided to job creators would be less than a dollar a day per new job, and may be as little as 30 cents a day. [Associated Press, 1/28/01]

How the hell did he do that, he "...was not elected until November or[of] last year>" drying ink?
So can someone please tell me how a governor with maybe 2 months in office max can have done all he is being blamed for doing?

Quite simple, he has done it.
In actuality the gov and several top republicans already had drafted many of these changes even before the election so they could be readily implemented. The link Jack provided from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau is not some phony propaganda piece, the state was going into this year with a budget surplus and not the crisis as being claimed.

The gov's first few bills he signed were applauded and benefits big money and big corporations who also happen to be big contributors to the GOP. The laws signed give corporate tax breaks, reduce the liability of companies from lawsuits (thus reducing regulations), and decreases taxes on HSAs. All told it is estimated that these spending initiatives would actually INCREASE the deficit by $70 million, this yr. Which makes you wonder if the state is in such fiscal crisis, then why is there money available for this spending?

Now fast forward to this "budget repair bill", once again something that was being worked on even before the gov has taken office. The bill which strips collective bargaining rights, does nothing to fix the fiscal crisis. The concessions being sought would most likely pass, without the stripping of rights. That is why there are protests going on, the gov doesn't even want to talk. Now even more interesting is the gov announced this plan last Friday and the SAME day there were TV ads from big business asking people to call their reps to approve the bill. Tell me, there is no special interest behind seeing the unions get busted.

The other issue with this bill is that the "savings" enatiled here are estimated for a savings of only $30 million, which leaves a gap of $40 million from the spending laws the gov signed a few weeks ago and this. There is much more to spending issues than what public workers make and there is absolutely no reason to strip collective bargaining if not being pushed by the corporate special interest.

Now, the issue of a power grab also comes into play. Even before the gov took office he demanded that the union contracts not be ratified. A democrat who lost his re-election bid was a deciding vote to not ratify, ironically was named to a post in the gov's cabinet. Cronyism? Another issue was the state was earmarked fed money for a high speed rail, something the gov demanded the money be turned down before it was his decision to make. (not that big of deal IMO, but it still isn't his call). Now after taking the oath, he has just arbitrarily said he wants to make the Dept of Commerce into a private/public hybrid and just nullify the public employees, of which he can't just do. Another example of cronyism, the senate majority leader and assembly majority leader are brothers and their father was just named the head of the WI State Patrol. Nepotism?

Other examples of a power grab are included in the budget repair bill where the gov wants to circumvent legislator control of programs like medicaid where the gov can just do what he wants. The gov also wants the control to just be able to sell state assets without leg input. Then there is the simple fact that he keeps talking that he want to "negotiate" contracts, but is now stating there is no reason to and thus implementing these measures.

I am not making this stuff up. Yes, I am a union member, but there is much more to all of this than what is being reported. One of the biggest mis-information is that the protests are about public employees paying more towards pension and health insurance, not the case at all, this is about the stripping of union rights and going backwards 50 years.
I agree, although I don't like to admit letting the R's have their voice is a good thing, it really is. Idaho, my Mississippi neighbor to the east, suffers from the same issue. The Republicans have total control of the state and have for years. The D's have no voice and the place is a mess.
As a retired Madison FF I feel sorry for my brothers and sisters who are pawns being used by the Teachers Union, AFL/CIO and others. What has been asked is blown out of proportion.

Hold on there Tommy, you may have been outside of Madison for a little to long to understand what you are hearing. The firefighters are not pawns by any stretch of the imagination. In fact is is the police and fireghters who chose to stand alongside the union brotheren in a show of solidarity. Never once were they asked to do so by any other union. Firefighters from across the state have been coming together everyday, meeting at station 1 and marching to the capitol, all in a show of support, not because they were asked to.

What is being asked for is no where near blown out of proportion, but does have a significant impact on the unions. There is much more involved than the concessions of paying to pension and healthcare. There is no reason to strip collective bargaining. Also, since you are retired, perhaps you should know one of the proposals entailed here changes the how retirement is calculated. I'm sure your retirement is based off your 3 highest years, now they want to change it so it is based off your LAST year. Tell me how you would be fairing with such a change now?

There have been death threats against the governor and his family, republican representatives, feces’ spread on the doors of Republican representatives; it is an embarrassment siding with these thugs

And this information is coming from where???? Funny because since I live here and in the mix of the going ons, you would think there would be so many reports of all this going on. Guess what, it isn't. The so called "rioting" is a bunch of crap. In fact out of several days of protesters of over 25,000, there have been only 9 arrests. Yes, 9 arrests over several days. There are more arrests made at a Packer game in the course of a few hours. Yes, surly crowd indeed, check your facts.

Collective bargaining will not be ended for public employees it still applies it just doesn't bind the municipalities to non-negotiated employee participation in their own healthcare and pension payments.

Collective bargaining would only apply to wages and that would only be in accordance with the consumer price index. Anything else in regards to hours and working conditions would be stripped away. Make no mistake, this will have a major impact on how things are done.

They are asking for minor and I mean minor contributions.

Of which could have been easily obtained with negotiations. There are many public employees willing to concede these concessions, but they never had a chance to negotiate them. There are many non-monetary issues whch can still be talked about and compromises made without the stripping on collective bargaining rights. Once again these protests are not about the contributions in any way shap or form, it is about the worker's rights being directly and needlessly attacked.

Emergency services are not affected by any of this by the way. I know a little bit about this because I was a high ranking fire union officer and involved in the collective bargaining with the firefighters union

You being a union officer plays no bearing here whatsoever. However, emergency services have been carved out of this bill, so I go back to the first part of the response, what incentive does the emergency services have in protesting then if being used as pawns? Fact remains that just because emergency services have been carved out does not mean they won't be affected. As I said, changes to the retirement will definately affect all. With stripping of CB from other unions police and fire lose their internal comparables and thus be subject to the same concessions in many municipalities. Also, there have already been amendments sought to include emergency workers in this bill as well. Not affected? Oh contrare, this definately affects us all.

Also instead of submitting to a divide and conquer, which the special interest would love to see, union members fighting union members, the emergency workers are standing alongside the rest of our union bretheren in a show of solidarity. We will not be bribed. Just watch any number of video clips out there with the firefighters present and the number of "thank yous" from other union members, yes my friend, this affect ALL.

In the Madison Metro area there are approximately 70,000 public employees. Less than 20,000 were there the others were from out of the area and from out of the state. Not a very impressive number from just the area.

Doesn't matter where people are from, Madison is our state capitol as well. There are also countless number of protests all over the state rather than just in Madison. Our voices are being cast from every corner of the state, everyone does not need to be in Madison to be heard. Those who are in Madison are showing up quite regularly, it is difficult to guage who is from where when we are all standing together.
Your guys make me proud to be a IAFF member. Local 29 supports your efforts.
Brother Anderson, 20,000 is a fantastic number, great turnout. Some people are at work and have other issues. It will affect their ability to bargain in a fair manner.
It was and is the liberal democrats that got us where we are and will protects from these nuts on the right. Being a past union official you should know that.
I'm not saying the threats are from the firefighters no way, but I'm sure the thugs who were brought in by other interests.. I got that info from some one I know on Capitol police. I know more than you may think and I'm staying out of it. I've got family on the job. I started a business and sold it because I couldn't meet the demands placed on a small business by the democrats, sorry. My views and only mine. I was a 100% Democrat until they changed and not for the good.

Being played I mean I've done bargining before, and this is classic. You always start out with something no one likes and it shocks the others into a bargining position. This is a classic move and everyone is playing into it.
I agree but the big bitch is with the teachers who walked off the job. It reflects on everyone and gives fire to those who don't like public unions. I've been involved in this stuff before and it takes years to beat back that image. Thats all I'm saying, I love the solidarity of the firefighters but over taking the capitol building isn't one of them. My opinion.

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