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Anti-union bill passes in Wisconsin

Students protesting at the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison form a peace sign on the floor of the rotunda Thursday. Protesters remained at the Capitol as legislators voted to approve an amended version of Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial bill aimed at limiting unions’ collective bargaining rights. Opponents are launching recall campaigns.

Associated Press

Students protesting at the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison form a peace sign on the floor of the rotunda Thursday. Protesters remained at the Capitol as legislators voted to approve an amended version of Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial bill aimed at limiting unions’ collective bargaining rights. Opponents are launching recall campaigns.

MADISON, Wis. — Stoking Republican efforts to check union power across the country, Wisconsin's state Assembly sent Gov. Scott Walker a bill he has sought to limit the collective bargaining rights of government workers after another emotional day at the Capitol.

The vote is expected to intensify bitter fights in capitols from Idaho to Indiana, emboldening other budget-cutting Republican governors to press ahead with anti-union legislation.

But it also is likely to galvanize unions and their Democratic allies. Since Republican senators in Wisconsin approved the bill Wednesday night, the state's Democratic Party took in more than $300,000.

Opponents of the bill packed the balconies in the Assembly and began jeering as soon as representatives started voting, making it almost impossible to hear the result. Boos and chants of "Shame!" broke out as the bill passed, 53-42, culminating weeks of heated debate that has brought tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol and sent Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state to try to prevent the bill's passage.

"This was our only option to move forward and avoid layoffs," said Rep. Scott Suder, the Assembly majority leader. "This is the right thing to do to make sure that Wisconsin's fiscal house is in order."

As the legislation advanced in Wisconsin, a crowd of more than 7,000 gathered outside the statehouse in Indiana to protest anti-union legislation there. Bills opposed by unions have advanced in Ohio and Idaho and are under consideration in Kansas, Tennessee and other states, though national polls show that a solid majority of Americans oppose efforts to limit bargaining rights.

Legislation introduced in Texas this week takes aim at a tactic used by Indiana and Wisconsin Democrats to stall anti-union legislation: Lawmakers fled to Illinois to deny Republicans a quorum. The Texas proposal would keep lawmakers who flee the state from being counted toward a quorum.

Opponents of the Wisconsin legislation are taking their fight to the courts, contending that Republicans violated the state's open meetings act in the vote, a charge that the Republicans dispute. Opponents have launched recall campaigns against the bill's supporters.

Richard Hurd, a Cornell University professor of labor and industrial relations, said Republicans in other states contemplating similar measures will likely watch the recall campaigns closely.

"It may energize the right, and it may give them the confidence to be more aggressive, but those in the Republican Party who are a little more cautious may want to wait and see how it plays out," he said.

But Chris Edwards, a Cato Institute economist, predicted that Wisconsin will "kick-start a movement toward public sector union reform."

The Wisconsin measure stalled Feb. 17, when all 14 Democrat senators fled the state. But on Wednesday, Republicans removed financial provisions from the bill, which meant it did not require as many senators present for a vote.

Legislation that eliminates most collective bargaining rights for public unions does not apply to police and firefighter unions.

Anti-union bill passes in Wisconsin 03/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011 10:06pm]

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