Gov Careers

By Phil Piemonte

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Fighting Bob is rolling in his grave

Have you been watching Wisconsin?

The state has a century-long association with the labor movement. It’s the birthplace of Progressive icon (and former Republican) Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, U.S. senator, trust-buster and champion of labor.

But the winds over Wisconsin have changed.

Democratic state lawmakers there—now outnumbered by Republicans in the state Senate—didn't show up for work on Thursday. The reason? They were boycotting a vote on a bill that would strip almost all government workers there of most of their collective bargaining rights. Since at least one Dem has to be present to conduct a vote, the cops were sent out to find them. Or at least one of them. Gov. Scott Walker (R) rolled out the measure last Friday, and a vote had been planned for Feb. 17.

All this follows days of protests by crowds clogging the streets around the Wisconsin statehouse. Not a few, either. Estimates by some sources put the number at more than 30,000, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

In solidarity with the protesters, hundreds of teachers across the state have called in sick, forcing classes to cancel.

The legislation in question, the “Budget Repair Bill,” would severely limit collective bargaining by most of the state’s public service workers—except local police and fire department officers and members of the state highway patrol. Government workers would be permitted to negotiate over wages only. The proposal also would shift more of the cost burden for worker healthcare and retirement benefits onto government employees in the state.

AFSCME, which has 1.6 million members, was born in Wisconsin in 1932—a fact that the union said made the Wisconsin governor’s proposal “particularly galling to AFSCME members.” AFSCME said the bill would affect about 200,000 union members.

But you don’t have to be a union member to watch this one closely. What's unfolding in Wisconsin is a pretty strong indicator of just how much is at stake these days for all public employees. For play-by-play updates on the action there, go to: www.afscme.org.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Feb 18, 2011 at 12:13 PM


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