Wisconsin Dems Hide in 'Hard ... to Find' Place; Governor Rips 'Theatrics'


His bill now asks state workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to pension costs (that percentage, he said, is below the national average) and to pay 12.6 percent of health insurance costs (about half the national average, he says). Those changes together would help produce $30 million in savings in the last quarter of the current fiscal year.

Protesters who spoke with ABC News Wednesday professed to having little or no problem with those changes.

"Public employees are willing to make sacrifices," Favour said. "I made $70,000 in salary alone last year, with benefits on top of that. Madison's police are among the highest paid in the state.

"I certainly don't want to make less money," he added. "But my wife, who's also an officer, and I have discussed it, and we understand it's a time for shared sacrifice. We expect our incomes will stay level or retreat. We're prepared for that."

What he and other protesters said they weren't prepared for were sweeping changes in the governor's proposal that would reduce state workers' right to engage in collective bargaining.

Governor Within His Authority

Collective bargaining by most public employees would be limited to wages. Other changes would require collective bargaining units to take an annual vote to maintain certification as a union.

Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues, and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues. Local law enforcement and firefighters would be exempt from these changes.

Richard Hurd, a professor of labor studies at Cornell University, said Walker is acting well within his authority as governor.

No federal law requires states to offer collective bargaining to public employees. Each state can determine what, if any, those rights will be.

Hurd, nonetheless, called the situation in Wisconsin "dramatic" and "unusual" in light of the fact that Wisconsin has such a long history of collective bargaining: In 1963, it was one of the first states to offer it to public employees.

Other cash-strapped states, Hurd noted, are attempting similar restrictions. Legislation limiting the power of public unions is under discussion in Maine, Alabama, Ohio, Arizona, Missouri and several other states.

John Kasich, the new Republican governor of Ohio, is proposing to deny 14,000 state child care and home care workers the right to unionize. Democratic governors including Jerry Brown of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York are attempting their own public union changes.

Though Walker's bill explicitly gives police and fire unions the right to continue to engage in collective bargaining, members of both see it as a ploy to buy their acquiescence.

Favour didn't put much stock in the bill's exemption.

"There's nothing to say the legislature can't pass that law and then un-exempt us," he said. "We certainly believe we're next. This exemption is just a bribe to get us to go along. Cops can't be bribed."

Right-to-Work State?

"He's trying to make our state a right-to-work state," said Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. "Even though it's 10 below outside, we're beginning to feel like we're down South."

He referred to the fact that most right-to-work states are in the South and West.

"All thrown away with one swoop of the pen," he said of labor's bargaining rights.

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