Politics

Players in Wisconsin’s Union Turmoil

The battle over public sector unions in Madison has thrust state legislators into the limelight. Meet some of the players in this slideshow.
by , | February 25, 2011

Updated February 25, 9:20 ET

Wisconsin was the first state in the union to give teachers and local government workers the right to collective bargaining in 1959, with state employees getting that right in the 1970s. It may become the first state to take away public workers' collective bargaining rights, if Republican Gov. Scott Walker has his way. He is backing legislation that would restrict union bargaining to just wages, eliminating their right to make deals over health, pensions, working hours, vacations and other benefits.

Walker says his "budget repair bill" is meant to bring public sector wages and benefits in line with the private sector. But the unions see the bill as an attempt to fundamentally change their role. Not surprisingly, they have come out fighting, holding massive protest rallies in Madison, the state capital. Democrat state senators, who back the workers and unions and oppose the legislation, have gone into hiding in order to delay a vote on the bill by the Republican-majority legislature.

Wisconsin's state legislators -- Democratic and Republican -- play a key role in what is turning into a watershed moment in state government. Last year, Governing photographer David Kidd was in Madison, covering a story on partisanship in state legislatures and came away with portraits of key lawmakers whom have recently spoken out, for and against, the ground-breaking legislation.

Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald -- Republicans

Two Republican leaders in the Wisconsin legislature are brothers. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald play pivotal roles in helping Gov. Walker turn his budget repair bill into law. As of Feb. 25, the Assembly has passed the bill, and is now with the state Senate. Scott Fitzgerald hopes he could pressure the Democratic senators who left the state to return to Wisconsin.

Sen. Mark Miller - Democrat

Sen. Miller, the minority leader, has strongly defended the rights of public sector unions in Wisconsin to conduct collective bargaining and has gone into hiding. On his website, Miller has posted videos and talking points on where he stands: "It's no secret what Democrats are fighting for -- protecting the rights of workers like nurses, teachers, child care workers and prison guards to have a say about the conditions they work under. We have not undertaken our recent actions lightly. But our job, and the role of government, is to expand people's rights and not take them away."

Rep. Robin Vos - Republican

A supporter of Gov. Scott Walker, Rep. Vos has gone on record, saying that "right-to-work" states have higher rates of income growth, in an effort to put some economic data behind what has become a highly-charged partisan issue in Wisconsin, a state with traditionally strong manufacturing sector. But Politifact, the fact-checking organization, has questioned some of Vos's claims, rating his remarks as being only "half-true" on its Truth-O-Meter.

Sen. Fred Risser - Democrat

Sen. Risser has been posting on his website his thoughts and feelings about the ongoing battle. "I want to thank my constituents for their overwhelming show of support for the stand that my fellow Democratic Senators and I are making to defend the rights of public workers, and all workers, to bargain collectively," he writes. "We are also fighting to protect seniors and those with disabilities from drastic cuts in the programs and services they depend on for their well-being."

Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer - Independent

Rep. Ziegelbauer, an independent lawmaker, has sided with the Republicans on the union issue. According to the blog WisPolitics.com, he said that as a county executive in Manitowoc County, he pleaded with public unions to help lower costs. "Collective bargaining on the local level is, 'You can't make me,'" he said. "Perhaps this isn't the perfect solution, but it certainly has our attention on the problem."

Rep. Mark Pocan - Democrat

Rep. Pocan has taken to the blogosphere to strongly criticize Gov. Walker's budget repair bill, calling it a "'Trojan Horse' of bad conservative ideas promoted nationally by the far right." He has compared the Governor's declaration of a $3.6 billion state deficit a "stunt" to gain media attention, similar to the infamous "Balloon Boy" stunt. In his most recent blog post, Rep. Pocan called Gov. Walker's "fireside chat" to the people of Wisconsin full of lies and challenged the governor to be a "leader and negotiate."

Sen. Dale Schultz - Republican

Sen. Schultz has emerged in the national press as one of the more moderate Republican senators who is seeking a compromise. The Wall Street Journal mentioned a proposal "written by Sen. Dale Schultz and first floated in the Republican caucus early last week, [that] calls for most collective bargaining rights of public-employee unions to be eliminated -- per Mr. Walker's bill -- but then reinstated in 2013..."

Sen. Schultz told the Wisconsin Radio Network that there needs to be a national dialog about the fiscal crises of governments. "But I also wanted people to know that collective bargaining is what gives people hope when they work for large organizations," Schultz said.

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