If you’ve been following along in my last post, you know the news: the Wisconsin State Senate rushed through and passed a bill that strips collective bargaining rights from most public employees. The vote in the State Senate, entirely composed of Republicans, was 18-1; only moderate Dale Schultz voted no. The budget repair bill was split at the last minute, cleaving the “non-fiscal” anti-union piece from the fiscal components of the bill. The non-fiscal piece did not require a quorum, so the Senate was able to pass it.
So what happens now? There are a host of potential implications:
• Assembly. First, the state assembly has to pass the bill. That shouldn’t be too difficult; because it’s supposedly “non-fiscal,” there’s no hope of a quorum fight that could be caused by a Democratic walkout. And Assembly Republicans already voted for the whole budget repair bill – at 1 in the morning a couple weeks ago – with only a few defections. So passing the anti-union piece, which was in that other bill, shouldn’t be a big struggle for them. It’s pretty clear this will go to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.
UPDATE: The Assembly’s going to take this up tomorrow morning. So that’s not much of a hurdle.
• Legal challenges. There are going to be a number of legal challenges to this bill. It will not be implemented right away. There’s the near-term challenge of how the bill got passed tonight. It was done in a way that may have violated open meetings laws, by not allowing 24 hours notice for a public meeting of the conference committee. There are other statutes about collective bargaining that may be brought up in court and fought. And there’s the issue of the bill having a fiscal impact. Scott Walker spent three weeks claiming that collective bargaining was a fiscal issue, and then the legislature just passed the bill as “non-fiscal.” Courts will have to wade through a lot of this, and it’s sure to go up to the state Supreme Court. Which brings us to…
• Supreme Court fight. The matchup between David Prosser (R) and JoAnn Kloppenberg (D) for the state Supreme Court on April 5 just got very interesting. It’s a statewide vote, and the balance of power on the state Supreme Court is at stake. Right now there are 4 Republicans and 3 Democrats on the court, but one of those Republicans is Prosser. Expect lots of organizing and millions of dollars poured into this election, which is much like a political election, with debates and everything. If Democrats win, the legality of what took place tonight may be put in greater question.
• General strike. Union leaders are reportedly discussing a general strike, and the mood of the protesters, who stormed the Capitol upon word of the bill, echoes that. You could see some kind of near-term labor walkout, at least in Madison and possibly throughout the state.
• Recalls. This will only energize progressives and labor to get the required signatures for recalls. All 8 Republicans eligible for recall voted to strip public employee unions of their rights, despite clear public opposition. Many of these Republicans, frankly, are going to recall as early as this summer, and if just three of them lose, the balance of power will switch to Democrats in the state Senate. There are also races for three open seats in the state Assembly coming up in May, so even more movement could occur.
• Scott Walker. If his approval ratings were slipping before, they may fall off a cliff now. Walker cannot be recalled until January 2012, and that’s a long way off. But depending on the momentum from the state Supreme Court election, recall elections, Assembly open seats, and legal fights, there could easily be enough support to recall Walker by then.
That’s a thumbnail sketch. This is obviously a huge setback for the labor movement – the bill has a number of provisions designed not just to restrict bargaining rights but stop the flow of union dues in the state – but it also represents an opportunity. This is the beginning, not the end of this fight.