Wisconsin Assembly passes controversial labor bill
March 10th, 2011
04:49 PM ET

Wisconsin Assembly passes controversial labor bill

The Wisconsin state Assembly on Thursday afternoon passed a controversial bill that curtails most state workers’ collective bargaining rights, one day after state Senate Republicans used a technical procedure to get around the intentional absence of 14 Democrats and pass the measure in their chamber.

Throngs of people upset at the developments have been protesting on the grounds of the Capitol throughout the day.

The bill will reach Gov. Scott Walker's desk for final approval. The bill would, among other things, allow public workers to collectively negotiate wages only and bar unions from taking dues from public workers’ checks. Walker has argued the bill is necessary to help the state correct its deficits and avoid massive layoffs and property tax hikes.

Here is a running account of some of the latest developments:

5:02 p.m. ET: Detail on the vote: The Assembly passed the measure 53-42.

4:47 p.m. ET: The Assembly has passed the bill.

4:41 p.m. ET: The Assembly appears to be voting.

4:33 p.m. ET: Still debating the bill, Democrats in the state Assembly are arguing that the Senate's move to pass the measure yesterday was illegal in part because the bill still addresses fiscal matters.

Senate Republicans, before passing the measure yesterday, stripped the bill of appropriations so that they could vote for the bill without a quorum. This way, they could vote without the presence of the 14 Democrats who fled the state.

Assembly Democrats, however, are arguing that the measure still has changes in appropriations, inclduing a change in appropriations for a tax credit. 

4:22 p.m. ET: Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has received two death threats, Fitzgerald spokesman Andrew Welhouse said. Both threats were e-mailed from the same address, according to Welhouse.

4:04 p.m. ET: Although Democratic state Sen. Jim Holperin apparently is returning to Wisconsin, one of his fellow Democrats in the state Senate, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, says she and other Senate Democrats are staying in Illinois. She says the matter of whether the Wisconsin Senate legally passed the measure last not hasn't been settled.

She said that because the legality of the Senate's move last night still has to be determined, she and other Senate Democrats still will stay away from Wisconsin because they don't want to be forced to appear in the Senate to deal with the measure.

Vinehout told CNN's Brooke Baldwin that she doesn't know where Holperin is, but she said that if he is on his way back to Wisconsin, he doesn't have the most current information. She added that the courts will need to decide whether yesterday's "legislative trickery" by Senate Republicans was legal.

3:58 p.m. ET: State Sen. Jim Holperin, one of the 14 state Senate Democrats who left the state last month in an attempt to prevent the Senate from voting on the measure, has told CNN he did so because the public needed time to digest what was being voted on, and because he thought a compromise was possible.

"The governor said he wanted to balance the budget, and we thought that could be done using the sacrifices of public workers who had agreed to concessions. We thought that could be done without taking workers' rights. Apparently we were wrong, based on the Senate's action last night," he told CNN's Brooke Baldwin.

Holperin said he has left Illinois, where he and the other Democratic senators had been staying, and is on his way back to his district in Wisconsin.

3:32 p.m. ET: The Assembly is discussing the measure. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, a Democrat, has told fellow lawmakers that "the charade is up," saying the argument that the bill helps fix Wisconsin's budget is bogus.

"It doesn't fix the budget. All it does its take away workers' rights, forever," Barca said. "... Don't insult your constituents when you go home ... and tell them you repaired the budget, because you didn't repair the budget. All you did was trample on workers' rights" and Democracy."

3:04 p.m. ET: Regarding the possible recall elections that CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin mentioned below: Wisconsin residents who are angry about the saga of this measure - whether angry at Republicans for pushing it, or at the Democratic senators who fled the state last month in an attempt to avoid a vote - are talking about holding these to force some legislators out before their terms are up.

Toobin says these elections can be called by petition. Only legislators who have served at least a year would be eligible for a recall election, Toobin said. Polls suggest some recall elections would be close, Toobin said.

3:02 p.m. ET: Toobin notes that if the legislature's actions are found to have violated open-meetings law, the legislature - dominated by Republicans who want to pass the bill - will just pass it again. "The composition (of the legislature) is not going to change unless there are recall elections," Toobin said.

3 p.m. ET: Regarding whether Republican lawmakers are violating open-meetings law to push the bill through, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says its tough to tell, because there seem to be arguments for both sides. However, he says, this is more a political controversy than a legal controversy. "The courts will get involved, but ultimately the Wisconsin voters will decide" whether this bill will stay in effect (assuming the bill passes today).

- CNN's Ed Lavandera and the CNN Wire contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Jobs • Labor • Wisconsin
soundoff (498 Responses)
  1. Bart Tayllor

    About time the unions got their collective faces in the mud. What unions did in the past for workers rights was admirable but today they are nothing more than a drain on taxpayers. The amazing thing is the utter cowardice and stupidity of the democrats who flew away. My! Why the hell were they elected for? To scurry away like rats when called to perform their duties? I never thought I would ever see something like that in this country...

    March 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      It's funny to see people take stab at the Democrats when the Republicans took to their own cowardice when they took out the financial measures to pass this bill in secrecy. Both sides are wrong live the rest our government. While it is ok to defend your party, please remember that your party is no better.

      March 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Josh

    To all the teachers who live in Wisconsin....MOVE NOW AND DO IT QUICKLY. Somewhere Sarah Palin is pleasuring herself to this news.

    March 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jackal&jester

    So let's say you have a ball. But due to some sort problem I need to take the ball and for some odd reason I want take away your ability to get the ball back. You agree to let me have the ball but you want to be able to get it. How do you feel about my actions. I had to use this analogy since it seems most comments here were written by children.

    March 10, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joshua Dixon

      The key evasion in your response is the words, "...for some odd reason...." Actually, there's nothing "odd" about it. The facts are obvious and open to all. The state of Wisconsin is going broke, and needs to find ways to cut its costs. As Franklin Roosevelt pointed out decades ago, public sector unions are destructive to a democracy.

      March 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • jackal&jester

      But how does removing the right to bargain save money? Is there a dollar figure out there that tells you that bargaining with unions cost this much. If not it should not be in a bill about spending.

      March 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Concerned

    I'm not a big proponent of the unions, but this is absolutely wrong. What the Republicans across the country are doing is going after education funding, so they can increase their numbers with MORE unintelligent, unthinking people, and they're going after police funding, so that they can get away with it.

    What they AREN'T going after are their rich cronies who make it possible to buy their way into office, and they AREN'T going after defense spending, which is way out of control. Republicans do not care for the people of Wisconsin, or for the people of this country. This show of brute force is going to backfire.

    March 10, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      And again while the Republicans are somewhat to blame so are the Democrats for leaving their own state like a bunch of scared little kids. AGAIN, BOTH SIDES ARE WRONG. OUR GOVERNMENT IS BROKE AND THE ONLY WAY IT WILL BE FIXED IS WHEN, US, THE PEOPLE START A REVOLUTION SIMILAR TO THOSE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. Blame whoever you want but when you wake up in the morning every day, look into the mirror and make sure to blame yourself for allowing our government to treat us this way.

      March 10, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joshua Dixon

    Let me quickly summarize this story for readers who might be in a hurry:
    1) Republicans took a realistic look at Wisconsin's finances and made a decision that will benefit the majority of workers in the state: i.e. private sector taxpaying workers. For this, they are being accused of being anti-worker.
    2) Public sector workers who couldn't care less about how their above-average pay and benefits hurt private sector workers, and the Democratic politicians they give money to, are choosing to respond with screaming temper tantrums similar to those of three-year old children being pulled out of the toy section at Wal-Mart.

    March 10, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Robert

    Private employee unions make sense. Public employee unions are different, especially when the leaders have their elected campaign-paid-for buddies "negotiating" for the "other side". They can really line their pockets with our tax dollars.

    Thank God the federal government has never allowed this corrupt public employee union system.

    March 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tim F.

    Change is very hard for some people. Especially when it hits them in the wallet. There are no more buggy whip makers or ice delivery men. Record stores have nearly disappeared and Borders is closing book stores across the country. Government union workers need to learn to evolve and adapt like the rest of the non-government union population has to. You cannot live off of the public's wealth the same way your Dad did. Time marches on.

    March 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bluecollardad

    ok, enough is enough. There are so many mis-informed eople out there, that the entire intent of this has been muddled with hear-say and rhetoric. Let's get a few things straight: 1. Not a dime of any dues paying Union members dues are ever used for political purposes. It is illegal to do so. Union use fund raisers such as promo material web sites, pic-nics and others to raise PEL fund money. Anyone that dosen't know that should simply check out any of the Federal filings Unions do. It is all regulated and strictly monitored. 2. If you take the total compensation package of an average public sector Union employee and compare it to a private sector Union employee, you will find that they are very similar. The statistics that are being thrown around stating the Union's receive far more than an average worker, takes into account minimum wage employees as part of its compulation of population. Of course most of us know that a minimum wage worker, on part time will not receive the same wage compensation package as a full time worker, Union or not. 3. The tax payers of Wisconsin are the loosers on this measure. The bill( which will be law) dosen't just clear the way for the Governor to lay-off State workers; but allows for every county, city or local municipality to do the same. 6000 lay-off are just the beginning. When your child starts riding the bus for an hour and a half one-way to school each day because the bus drivers are laid off, or going to school with a classroom of 50 students, because the teachers are laid off, or waiting injured on the side of the road waiting on an ambulance because the county paramedics have been laid-off, then maybe the truth will come to light.

    March 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      What are you smoking? BTW, who do you blame the fact that there is a deficit on? Oh, that must be Republicans too.

      March 10, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • EndangeredMiddleClassWakeUP

      In fact the economy DID go bust under the Republicans, Moreover, according to the GAO records, for the last half a century the deficit has always increased / been higher under Republican administrations.

      March 10, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • kenai kid

      Blue, thank you for not drinking the kool-aid.
      One thing you failed to mention, is this: Most of these people that are angry about union wages and benefits didn't have the courage to fight for them and will take what ever scraps fall from the masters table.
      "Unions pushed corporations overseas!" PAAAAALLLLLEEEEEEEAAAAASSSEEE! GATT, NAFTA, the NEW GATT, CAFTA, and DR-CAFTA (US Free Trade Agreements) rewarded the corporations for moving business over seas by putting the US at a sever trade disadvantage in the form of lopsided tariffs. Enter ANY of these acronyms in a search engine and see what you find. Every one of these was opposed by the unions because of the fact that jobs would be lost overseas. Congress argued they would INCREASE employment. Corporations are reaping HUGE profits by moving jobs to third world countries where exporting the goods to the US is cheaper than exporting them to other countries from the US (one glaring example: up to 45% tariffs on American goods in Mexico and a maximum 7.8% tariff on Mexican goods imported to the US).

      March 10, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Andy

    No the union was not it just demanded fair treatment for workers just wish the rest of the working class would wake up and join unions for fair wages and bennifits so that they could live lik a man insted of groveling for just anouther crumb tossed off by management

    March 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Billy

    I am still shocked by people calling union supporters communists. Surely, they do not know what communism really looks like. What people in Wisconsin fighting for is a decent living with bargaining rights. Shame on Scott Walkers and GOPers by setting back civil rights in Wisconsin 50 years.

    March 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JWH

    People are concerned about their money, actually the taxpayers money!

    Yet had Christians had that much fervor over abortion, it would not have happened.

    March 10, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. k206

    Breaking news " all public union jobs in Wisconsin to be outsourced to China and India "

    March 10, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mike

    Unions only have themselves to blame. If you would ever root out the bad workers instead of fighting every step of the way to help them keep their jobs you wouldn't have to worry about so many people having the "idea" of what a union worker is. Used to be the Union label meant better product, better for the country. Now you have made yourself the butt of jokes by allowing people who no one would let baby sit their kids continue teaching, or at least collecting a pay check while sitting in a room all day. Until you figure out that having workers in your union who take pride in the job, you will never get the support you want from the community as a whole. This does not mean that there are no good teachers or other union workers but if you continue to protect the worst of them like you do no one will care. Why don't you get rid of the bad ones? Its not as if you can't find someone better to replace them. You will still collect your dues.

    March 10, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Guest

    The message republicans are sending to the Future of America is this: Mediocrity is to be rewarded. All you need is a GED, join the local police force or firemen dept. and we will reward you. You will be called a hero every time you are called to perform your job. If you as much try to educate yourself, get a university degree, incurred huge amounts of debt in the process, and try to educate the future workforce of this nation, we will vilified and punish you

    March 10, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. timetells

    Up until now it takes big money to win elections. I would like to think that with FREE media, twitter, facebook, etc we can get some real choice on the best option and get the real story from real candidates instead of the guy with the most big corp money wins. If 3rd world countries can pull of the action they have by finally getting the real story we can only hope that at least in the US we can finally get a chance to vote fir the right person instead of the person THEY put right in front of us and say "this is your guy" 2012 will be won on the internet!

    March 10, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
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