Wisconsin Governor's 'Union-Busting' Bill Becomes Law

After months of protests and court hearings, a controversial law that strips Wisconsin state workers of most of their collective bargaining rights has taken effect.

The legislation, which became law Wednesday, was introduced by Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, in February. Walker said at the time that the rollback was necessary to close a $3.6 billion dollar shortfall in the state budget.

But critics of the bill, including 14 Democratic state senators who fled the Capitol for neighboring Illinois to stop the bill's progress, challenged that claim, saying Walker's bill was more a union-busting tactic than fiscal necessity.

Senate Republicans passed the legislation during a special committee vote in March that led to a court challenge. Opponents said the lawmakers' action violated the state's open-meeting laws, and a county court judge agreed.

The case eventually worked its way to the state Supreme Court where a conservative majority ruled 4-3 to overturn the county court judge's decision.

The bill's introduction led to protests at the Capitol beginning on Valentine's Day, with as many as 100,000 protesters -- and some backers of the bill, packing the building.

The new law makes it illegal for public employees unions to bargain collectively for anything but wages. It applies to Wisconsin teachers, librarians, road workers and other employees, although police and firefighters are exempt.

It also imposes hurdles to union representation, bars the automatic collection of union dues from employees' paychecks and requires public employee unions to win certification elections every year with at least one in excess of 50 percent of all eligible employees -- not just those participating in the election, Courthouse News Service reported.

A Milwaukee public schoolteacher who took part in demonstrations against the bill told Reuters that it would hurt education in the long term.

"I think it is terrible that teachers are losing any voice in their workplace," Judy Beehler, 62, told the news agency, adding that the bill was unnecessary because teachers already had agreed to concessions before its passage.

"To me, this isn't about the financial part," Beehler said. "It's a power play by the Republicans to weaken the unions."

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