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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ALL WORKING MEN AND WOMEN IN THE UNITED STATES! If you all think GOP right wingers and tea party fellow travelers give a rat$ a$$ about the welfare of working men and women, keep on voting them in. Starting with the famed RR, the expendability of working folks has grown exponentially.

Just remember this - - - Better working wages, forty hour 'five day' work weeks, paid vacations, paid holidays and many more benefits, were brought to you by the ability and right by law, of working men and women to join together and collectively negotiate for those things. None of them were "GIVEN" out of the goodness of corporate hearts. This rethug Republican Governor of Wisconsin and his cohorts (Read many other GOP governors and legislators ) intend to take that right away ENTIRELY. The liars in the ranks of the right wing, rant on and on how the "Unions wield too much power" while their corporate lobbiests (who have a huge advantage in wielding unchecked power) cheer them on hoping to completely eliminate any "UNIONS" period. These corporations have done their dirty work of mis-information through the Chamber of Commerce and lowering the "Union Membership base by shipping millions of jobs out to this country. They have no loyalty to this USA, only to their bottom line and at the expense of the working people in this country.
All of you union republican brothers read this and be warned, the republicans will be after your wages and pensions next. Vote Democratic. Brothers Hanson is right on the mark.
Well said Gary.

I was wondering when this would hit FFN here. Firefighters from across the state have been converging in Madison for the last several days. The video clip shown at the top was yesterday and in a true support of solidarity Madison 311 as well as the MFD leadership (non-union) led the way to the capitol building.

Watching much of the national news, there is misinformation being reported, this is NOT about the fact the gov wants public workers to pay more in health ins and pension, but it is a strip of collective bargaining. Some history here, the gov was making a power grab even before he was sworn into office. He demanded that the legislature and senate disapprove a tentative agreement with state workers because he wanted to "negotiate". He demanded that the state return federal money for a high speed rail project. Once sworn in, his first few bills actually increase spending by giving corporate tax breaks, limiting lawsuit liability on companies, and decreasing the tax on HSAs, all of which were heavily applauded and benefits big corporate sponsors of the gov. The first few bills is estimated to add $70 million to the deficit (despite the budget having a $54 million surplus).

Now he wants to push through this "budget repair bill". This as well is being heavily endorsed and applauded by the big money corporate sponsors. The bill is supposed to save $30 million with the concessions to health ins and pension, leaving a $40 million difference between this bill and his initial spending. This bill was announced on a Friday and immediately the gov alerted the National Guard. He wanted this bill pushed through the senate and legislature within a week with little to no public debate. The kicker is that the bill strips almost all collective bargaining rights from workers and that is what is infuriating union members. The gov doesn't even want to sit down and talk, despite the fact he could get the concessions he is seeking, instead he wants to make ultimatums. This is not democracy but an autocracy.

I am proud of the solidarity being shown and am proud to be an IAFF member. As Gary mentioned much of what everyone enjoys today is the results of unions. However, the middle class has been stagnant since the 80's while the wealthy have seen an increase by 22% (from cnn financial). When asking what good unions are today, take a look. The wealthy have been given tax breaks, the idea that the wealthy create jobs is outdated, where are the jobs?

Sure people pay more for their own benefits and many have taken a pay cut, but what is the common retort? "Welcome to the real world" as though us union members haven't understood what was going on, or the misconception unions always get raises despite the economy when in reality many concessions have been made. Bottom line is that instead of "cheering" the cuts of others so that everyone can "feel the pain".....perhaps it is time for people to stand together and look to improve their own lot. What we see is a divide and conquer and pinning unions as "haves" and everyone else as "have nots", it just isn't the case. Instead it is time to take the middle class back.
All of you union republican brothers read this and be warned

Ironically I know of a few staunch republicans who just dismissed the union talk as just fear tactics. They voted for the gov and now that this has happened, they have come out and admitted they didn't think the gov was going to go after collective bargaining. Now one of them is acting like a staunch democrat.

I would say the other issue here is that a balance of power is a good thing and something which should be sought. When one party has absolute control, it can definately adversly impact many. I know there are many staunch republicans here who oppose the president and opposed the democrat control of power the past couple years at the federal level. Well here in Wisconsin we are seeing the impact of a single party control as well. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, a balance and cooperation of power should be sought for.
The Ancient Greeks practiced a scapegoating rite in which a cripple or beggar or criminal (the pharmakos) was cast out of the community, either in response to a natural disaster (such as a plague, famine or an invasion) or in response to a calendrical crisis...being stoned, beaten and driven from the community.

Since this goat, carrying the sins of the people placed on it, is sent away to perish,[6] the word "scapegoat" has come to mean a person, often innocent, who is blamed and punished for the sins, crimes or sufferings of others, generally as a way of distracting attention from the real causes.

"Process in which the mechanisms of projection or displacement are utilised in focusing feelings of aggression, hostility, frustration, etc., upon another individual or group; the amount of blame being unwarranted."

Union; A workers organization that presents an easily identifiable target for politicians to blame for all previous ills brought about by all previous politicians.

Also; A group of people that can be easily blamed for any number of socio/economic ills by those not members of the group, who typically resent the benefit of organized bargaining and seek someone other than themselves to blame for their own lack of fortune.
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. 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. 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. They are asking for minor and I mean minor contributions. 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

This will not fare well I’m afraid. 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.
In other words, now that you are retired and no longer directly benefit from the bonus overtime rates, workman's comp, and myriad of other benefits that were a direct result of your union's action, you're OK with losing the right of collective bargaining.

I can't wait for your angry response (probably directed at Obama) when, as a direct result of this, your retirement benefits are cut.
The kicker to this whole thing is the "budget crisis" is entirely of the Governor's making. He enacted a couple of programs and tax cuts early in his administration and made absolutely no attempt to pay for them, now he has an "emergency." Wisconsin actually had a budget surplus when he came into office, but like seemingly all "Fiscally Conservative Republicans" he knocked the surplus into deficit, and has created an "emergency." Now he wants to balance the budget - not by changing a program or specific spending, but taking away the entire mechanism that looks out for the working classes.

Our analysis indicates that for the three-year period, aggregate, general fund tax collections
will be $202.8 million lower than those reflected in the November/December reports. More than
half of the lower estimate ($117.2 million) is due to the impact of Special Session Senate Bill 2
(health savings accounts), Assembly Bill 3 (tax deductions/credits for relocated businesses), and
Assembly Bill 7 (tax exclusion for new employees).

And here's a (Liberal) columnist's take on the whole thing:

Good luck, brothers. I'm no fan of the IAFF, but I think there should be reforms, not scorched earth.
I support the local period but I feel they are being used. I don't like the lib dems pulling the strings. Yes the tax cuts were needed to bring business back that Doyle ran off.
Right I'm no fan of Obama but he has proved why. Not worth discussing.

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