Wis. Assembly Passes Bill On Collective Bargaining The stalemate over public workers collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin may soon officially be over. The Wisconsin Assembly approved a bill that curtails public sector union rights.

Wis. Assembly Passes Bill On Collective Bargaining

Wis. Assembly Passes Bill On Collective Bargaining

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The stalemate over public workers collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin may soon officially be over. The Wisconsin Assembly approved a bill that curtails public sector union rights.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The political stalemate in Wisconsin is over in the bitter fight over unions. Republicans have won their effort to sharply curb collective bargaining rights for most public workers. Republicans in the State Assembly passed the plan late today. Last night, their counterparts in the Senate outmaneuvered the 14 Democrats who had fled the state to stop the bill.

As Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson reports, demonstrators in Madison struggled to make sense of the sudden turn of events.

SHAWN JOHNSON: Tens of thousands of protesters have visited the capitol regularly for weeks now, but today was a bigger day than most because this vote is where the rubber finally met the road.

For several hours today, the capitol building was effectively on lockdown. Police held their ground, and at this doorway, a crowd of protesters tried to push and wedge their way past them.

Unidentified Man: We're going in. We're going in.

JOHNSON: Frustration among protesters is especially high now that Senate Republicans used a legislative sleight of hand to pass a plan that would restrict public employee bargaining rights in Wisconsin. Until then, the 14 missing Democrats had been able to delay the proposal by preventing a quorum, but when majority Republicans stripped out key elements so that it was no longer technically a budget bill, Democrats no longer had the power to stop it.

That left Democrats in the Wisconsin Assembly doing what they could to fight the plan, filing a court compliant accusing Senate Republicans of breaking the state's open meeting laws.

When Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca took the floor, he urged the GOP to take a deep breath and come back next week.

State Representative PETER BARCA (Democrat, Wisconsin): This is wrong, terribly wrong. Democracy is ceasing to exist in the state of Wisconsin.

JOHNSON: Today's session follows weeks of frustrations, intense negotiations and no shortage of political drama at the capitol. Unions tried hard to block a bill that they view as a nuclear option. It also caps a bruising political fight for the state's newly elected conservative governor, Scott Walker, a fight that thrust him onto the national stage.

Republicans had longed resisted pulling out fiscal elements of this plan, even though it meant they could have passed the collective bargaining changes weeks ago.

Republican Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald told Democrats they were exaggerating the negative.

State Representative JEFF FITZGERALD (Republican, Wisconsin): And I know you feel passionate that this is going to ruin Wisconsin, and this is going to make everybody take to the streets, and Wisconsin, as we know, will never be. That's simply not true.

JOHNSON: But protesters like Karin Borgh of Milwaukee aren't ready to stop fighting.

Ms. KARIN BORGH: Today is not the end of this fight, and it will go on, and it will go on, and it will go on.

JOHNSON: Over the next few months, that fight is likely to continue in the form of recall attempts.

Meanwhile, the governor will quickly sign this plan, ending not only weeks of chaos in Madison but also wiping out many collective bargaining laws that have been on the books for decades.

For NPR News, I'm Shawn Johnson in Madison.

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