MADISON, Wis. — Unions are facing a make-or-break moment in their campaign to drive Wisconsin's Republican governor from office.
If unions and their Democratic allies prevail in the recall — just over a year after Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation to curb collective bargaining rights for most public workers — it would send a powerful warning to other politicians who might try to limit union rights. Unions also might find it easier to turn out more voters in November for President Barack Obama in this battleground state.
A Walker victory would be a stunning setback for organized labor.
"If we lose, it's a shot in the mouth," said Greg Junemann, president of the Professional and Technical Engineers union and a Milwaukee resident. "We can survive it, but we'll be reeling."
Unions have experienced mixed results in the past year in trying to beat back efforts in dozens of states to restrict bargaining rights, pass right-to-work laws or limit how unions collect dues.
They enjoyed a major victory in November when Ohio voters in a statewide referendum repealed a law limiting collective bargaining rights for the state's public employees. But they fell short in an earlier recall campaign to wrest control of the Wisconsin Senate from Republicans and suffered a major defeat when Indiana this year became the first state in more than a decade to pass right-to-work legislation.
Recalling a sitting governor would be a major feat, something that's happened only twice before in U.S. history.
"After devoting so much effort, energy and funds to the recall, unions have to show positive results or it will be judged to be a sign of a weakened labor movement," said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. "If they can't win in one of the most liberal states, where can they win?"
The recall primary in Wisconsin is May 8, and the general election is June 5.