MADISON, Wis. (WCCO/AP) — 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.
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.
Union leaders across the county, including here in Minnesota, are expressing outrage.
Eliot Seide, the executive director of AFSCME Council 5, said, “our members are absolutely angry. This act of deceit, in the middle of the night over in Wisconsin, is shameful. It’s unprecedented and it’s probably illegal.”
The offices of AFSCME Council 5, the largest state employee union in Minnesota, are decorated with signs supporting Wisconsin workers.
The phone is ringing constantly with workers asking how they can help. And the union’s website is calling on workers to join protests in Wisconsin this weekend including one in Hudson on Sunday.
Gov. Mark Dayton said what happened in Wisconsin will not happen here.
“I don’t want that in Minnesota. We are better than that in Minnesota and we are proving that by all being together in a responsible way,” said Dayton.
There are a number of measures moving through the Minnesota legislature that would strip away union powers. Dayton has been careful not to throw around the word “veto,” but he’s made it clear he will act to prevent measures like this from becoming law here in Minnesota.
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