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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Yes I do, sorry but I do. I learned that especially when building a business. Most but probably not all Republicans don't have to be mandated to do something. I give often to charity and don't have to be told to do it. My opinion. I come from a long family of Democrates but in the early 70's my dad's small busniess was put out of business by the teamsters. Through it all the employees got the same as before they started except what they had to pay for union dues. The health care that was added was too much and before the year was up he was out of business and 30 guys were with out jobs. Unions have there place but I believe mostly in the emergency services but they don't go every where.

There are more Republicans in the union ranks than people would believe and a lot are silent because of there own fears. I speak my mind and when I'm wrong I admit it and move on. A lot of libs I have met can't let things go. I feel sorry for them but that is there life.
The citzenship thing is so overblown but it is stoked by Obama himself. Most people believe he is a citzen myself included. But everytime he slips a little it comes back up. Most of us don't really give a damn. As for disagreeing with libs, you haven't lived in Madison.
But again the new govener in WI and Rep houses in the senate were elected by a majority who wanted this change.

To a point Tommy. Most of those supporting the GOp never figured that a strip of collective bargaining was going to happen. Most people figured that concessions would be made with negotiations, not ultimatums. As matter of fact I know of a couple staunch republican supporters who voted for Walker and now regret that vote saying "I never thought he would do this". One of them has turned 180 and is damn near a staunch democrat now.
Now you have been in bargining, I was for years. How many times was the first offer to get the locals attention was elemination of trades, furlough days, pay cuts, layoffs? Did it usually happen? Maybe I'm wrong but I really don't think that elimination of collective bargining is going to happen. But it got everyones attention nationwide. Just what he wanted, he made the lib representatives flee the state. The Democrats are playing right into is hand. It is so damn obvious at least ot me. The more this happens the general public turns agains the public unions. That is just reality. the public unions maybe make up 12 percent of the state's population. So what does that do? Unions in general are only about 20% of the state's populations. He was a county executive of Milwaukee county with a population of millions. Don't you think he knows about bargining? Come on...

Just a thought here... no different than a fire station, conversations involving politics, religion, sexual preference, etc. have nothing but negative and time wasting outcomes...

Just sayin'
LOL, you are right and the station can be brutal at times. But not alone so I do have one other guy to talk to.
Well I'm being punished don't worry, I've got a daughter, son-in-law, and 3 cousins on the job and they are all libs. Plus my fiance is too, is there no justice???

Picking up some part-time cash as an FFN moderator?
Boy I wish :O), LOL. Republicans can be good union guys also ya know?
Ya know when ever I got detailed to the station with our union president working there we would have to put a watch on the hose tower because I drove him crazy. Of course I got stoked to push up the pressure especially when he got so pissed he couldn't talk. Fire station no mercy no matter who you are.
I disagree Tommy. The Gov already said he would veto any bill that did not include the elimination of CB. There is no reason for him to railroad this legislation through in a week, which is why the dem senators left, so that more time could be given. The reps on the assembly side were ready to take a vote and "forgot" to tell the dems that they were conveining.

I don't see people turning more against public unions, but I see the reverse happening here with so many unions standing together, this has emblazened a look at such strong arm tactics from politicians that it does threaten others as well.

Walker was county exec and had also busted and tried to bust local unions, now he has the power and GOP majority to push his agenda. He isn't bargaining, if he was, he wouldn't be pushing this through so fast.
Well time will tell but to grab your football and go home serves no one. I hope your right on not loosing the support.

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