(MADISON, Wisc.) -- It's all over in Wisconsin, but the shouting is expected to go on for quite a while after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that strips the state's 175,000 workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.
The measure is a huge victory for Gov. Scott Walker, who said it was necessary so that Wisconsin could put the state's fiscal house in order. The state faces a $137 million budget shortfall that Walker says will grow to $3.6 billion in a few years without major concessions from the unions.
Critics say Walker was only playing politics and that his real motivation was weakening unions in order to weaken the Democratic Party. Several states, including Ohio, are moving ahead with similar proposals that target the labor rights of public employees.
Walker is poised to sign the bill after the state's Assembly Thursday passed the measure 53 to 42, with no support from Democrats. Pro-union supporters in the gallery screamed "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as GOP lawmakers exited the chamber. Earlier, about 20 protesters were removed by police so that the Assembly members could debate the bill and cast a vote.
The Assembly's vote came a day after Senate Republicans stripped the financial provisions from the controversial bill, which enabled them to pass it without the necessary quorum.
Fourteen Democrats fled to Illinois three weeks ago to prevent a vote from taking place. However, Senate Republicans got around their absence Wednesday with the procedural move.
The bill passed by Republicans ends collective bargaining on health benefits, pensions, hours, overtime, vacation, work schedules and sick leave or family leave, rights state and local workers have had for 50 years. Workers can now only bargain for wage increases so long as they don't exceed the rate of inflation.
The unions had already agreed to a key concession by offering to pay more into their pensions and health plans.
Police and firefighters, who supported Walker's run for governor last fall, are exempt from the new rules.
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