Wisconsin Assembly Votes to Slash Union Rights

Hundreds of protesters blocking the hall of the state legislature were dragged out by police


The Wisconsin Assembly voted in favor of legislation that conclusively strips Wisconsin public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

Hundreds of protesters blocked the Assembly hall and had to be dragged out by police in order for the vote to be conducted Thursday afternoon. After the Assembly passed the controversial budget repair bill on a 53-42 vote, chants of "Shame! Shame!" erupted in the Capitol building.

"This is a horrible bill," Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson told The Atlantic Thursday afternoon, "but we did everything we could to stop it. Now it's time for the public to carry on the fight."

One of 14 Democratic state senators who've been holed up in Illinois for more than three weeks in a bid to block the legislation, Larson encouraged protestors to put down picket signs and pick up recall petitions that are being circulated in eight Republican state Senate districts. "We achieved our goals of engaging the public and drawing attention to the Republicans' war on working people. We did everything short of changing the actual Republicans in the legislature, now that's up to the people," he said in an interview after the bill sailed through the Assembly.

The legislature reconvenes on Tuesday and while Larson says that the 14 Democrats are eager to return to Wisconsin, the group will wait on a ruling from the district attorney's office on the legality of the surprise Senate vote Wednesday evening breaking a collective bargaining ban out of Gov. Scott Walker's broader budget repair bill. The Democrats charge that the vote violated Wisconsin's opening meeting laws, which require a 24 hours notice before any vote takes place.

If Wednesday night's vote is ruled illegal, as Democrats hope, the vote would be overturned and a new vote scheduled. Additionally, it's possible that there would be a public hearing over the bill, which is something Republicans have tried to avoid since the contentious legislation was introduced three weeks ago.

Larson noted that Republicans state senators had been in two straight days of caucus meetings before moving forward with the Wednesday vote, and that Walker attended their meetings. "Walker was probably told that he needed to end this because it was so unpopular and he's hoping the people will forget, but I don't think they will," he said.

When Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller appeared on MSNBC shortly after the vote, he honed in on the recall efforts that have been taking place since Saturday. Democrats have less than 60 days to collect enough signatures to trigger special elections for the targeted GOP senators.

"Today is the vote. Tomorrow is the recall," he said.

Image credit: The Associated Press

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Natasha Vargas-Cooper is the author of Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America. She lives in Woodland Hills, California.

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