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Wisconsin governor wins his battle with unions on collective bargaining

Demonstrators at the Capitol building in Madison are protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's legislation to cut public employees' benefits and eliminate most of their collective bargaining rights.

Even though Walker won this round, there may be others. The unions and their allies have said they intend to mount recall campaigns against Republican state senators; conservatives have threatened to do the same against the Democrats who fled Wisconsin.

At this point, only eight senators from each party are eligible for recall under a state law that requires a year to pass after an official's election before he or she can be booted from office.

Although no other governor has been as confrontational with the unions as Walker has, some of the same issues are in play elsewhere.

Many of them are states, like Wisconsin, where Republican governors came to power in last year's elections promising fiscal discipline. As their states grapple with massive budget deficits, these governors are arguing that they cannot deal with their fiscal problems without curbing the power of the public-sector unions.

The Ohio Senate has passed legislation, championed by the new governor, John Kasich (R), that would limit collective bargaining for government workers. The bill is awaiting action in the House.

In Michigan, the state Senate on Wednesday passed a proposal by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder that would give governor-appointed emergency managers the power to break labor contracts in failing schools and cities.

"Wisconsin's Governor Walker may be entering the front door on undoing workers' rights, but make no mistake. You all are sneaking in the back door to do the same thing with this vote," Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) said during the debate before the vote.

In other states, governors are proposing that state and local workers contribute more to their benefits. But some of them, including Florida's new Republican governor, Rick Scott, have said they would not attempt to strip those employees of their collective-bargaining rights.

Unions and their allies say the showdown in Wisconsin has galvanized and energized a liberal base that had been in a state of deep malaise after the beating that Democrats took in last year's elections.

Walker is "winning the battle through pure, uncompromising force, but he's losing the war," said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

Union officials say it is not a coincidence that many of these anti-union efforts are taking place in states that are must-wins for Democrats in the 2012 election.

"It's a coordinated effort in the battleground states to try to diminish the strength and diminish the power of the public-sector unions because we stand in their way," Saunders said. "If they take us out, then the Democratic Party loses a very large grass-roots operation."

Staff writer Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this report.


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