Union Changes In Wisconsin Spark Protests Thousands of protesters again descended on the state Capitol to oppose a budget proposal by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Walker wants to strip government unions of most bargaining rights, a move he says would help bring public sector benefits in line with the private sector.
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Union Changes In Wisconsin Spark Protests

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Union Changes In Wisconsin Spark Protests

Union Changes In Wisconsin Spark Protests

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

As Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson reports, many union members think the governor is trying to bust their union.

(SOUNDBITE OF POUNDING)

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE BLOWING)

SHAWN JOHNSON: Unidentified Group: Kill the bill, kill the bill, kill the bill, kill the bill.

JOHNSON: Bryan Kennedy heads the union AFT-Wisconsin, which represents 17,000 government employees.

BRYAN KENNEDY: It keeps getting bigger and bigger every day. He needs to back down. He needs to leave the public sector workers alone. What we're seeing now are even more private sector workers showing up. It's just getting bigger and bigger because they know this is an assault on all workers. This is not just an assault on people who work for the state.

JOHNSON: As you might expect, Governor Walker and his supporters frame the issue much differently. Walker campaigned on bringing public employee benefits in line with the private sector. Right now, most state workers, including employees of Wisconsin Public Radio, pay next to nothing toward their pension and favorable rates for health care. Governor Walker proposes what would amount to about an 8 percent pay cut for workers. He calls it a modest proposal.

SCOTT WALKER: When people look at this, particularly for people outside of government, they look at this and say this is a pretty good deal.

JOHNSON: But it's the other part of Walker's plan that's stirring unions here into a frenzy: He wants to eliminate the right of government employee unions to bargain for health care and pensions and limit their ability to bargain for wages. Governor Walker says bargaining would be pointless, the state has nothing to negotiate.

WALKER: The truth is we don't have money to offer. We don't have finances to offer. This is what we have to offer. And if you're going to negotiate, you got to have something to offer. We don't have something. So we're laying it out on the table.

JOHNSON: State clerical worker Mike Lowery calls it a war on unions.

MIKE LOWERY: Hell, yeah. If they can do it to people in Wisconsin with its historic working-class roots, it can be done anywhere.

JOHNSON: Professor Gary Chaison is an expert on labor relations at Clark University in Massachusetts. He says New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie has made a name for himself by talking tough with unions. But Chaison says what Scott Walker is doing here goes beyond that.

GARY CHAISON: In most states, they're just willing to say: We're going to be tough in bargaining. But what's happening in Wisconsin is they're saying: We're going to do this without bargaining, and that's quite different thing.

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

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