Democrats and Teachers Go AWOL in Wisconsin Over Union Bill

A bill to limit union bargaining ability gets some pushback

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To non-inhabitants, it's possible Wisconsin has never looked quite this interesting. The state is up in arms today over the new Republican governor's bill to limit union's bargaining rights. The bill was supposed to be voted on today, but as protesters filled and surrounded the capitol building, Democratic state senators were nowhere to be found. The bill is Governor Scott Walker's idea to fix the state's looming $137 million deficit, and was approved by a legislative committee on Wednesday, but requires votes from 20 senators, at least one of which must be a Democrat. Today, senate Democrats disappeared in protest, making a vote on the bill impossible and effectively shutting down the state government.

Madison public schools have also been shutdown for the second day in a row, as teachers demonstratively called in sick en masse. According to Monica Davey and Steven Greengrass at the New York Times, the Wisconsin legislature's measure, which limits "collective bargaining for state employees and many local employees, including teachers, to base wages, barring them from negotiating over health coverage or working hours," is an alternative to the recent layoffs and budget cuts other states have resorted to in an effort to combat their own deficits. But union supporters aren't wild about any bill that will relieve certain union members of their obligation to pay dues. The governors of New Jersey, Nevada, Indiana and Florida have also recently gone up against their own states' public unions with similar plans.

Naturally, the union backlash is receiving some backlash of its own. Writing at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today, Patrick McIlheran refers to the union protests as "tantrums," arguing that "voters can vote all they want. We can elect a cheapskate governor and a Legislature to match. But come the moment, unions will have the last loudest word." This is proof, he writes, of why Governor Walker's plan to limit union control over spending is so necessary. Perhaps this movement against teachers unions, in Wisconsin and other states, is a sign that education politics in the US are really changing. "Teachers unions, historically one of the most powerful interest groups in American politic, are being besieged like never before--under attack from conservative GOP governors with a zeal for budget-cutting even while taking fire from some Democrats, including President Barack Obama, who has suggested he agrees that unions can be an impediment to better schools," writes Politico's Jennifer Epstein.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.