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Wisconsin governor raises stakes in union fight with threat of job losses

by union-anon Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011 at 7:27 AM

Republican Scott Walker warns Wisconsin he will fire state workers if his union-busting bill does not pass

Demonstrators protesting against governor Scott Walker's bill to curtail collective bargaining rights gather inside Wisconsin's capitol on Tuesday. Photograph: Eric Thayer/Getty Images

The Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, escalated his battle with teachers and other public service workers over union rights today when he threatened to send out redundancy notices next week.

Walker also made a direct appeal on television to the public with what was billed as a fireside chat tonight.

The dispute has provoked some of the biggest protests in the US since the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 1970s.

The governor and the unions are in a standoff over Republican moves to end collective bargaining and other measures aimed at neutering public sector trade unions, and Wisconsin has become the test-bed.

Walker, in a statement to the Associated Press, said that if the proposed bill aimed at curbing union rights was not passed, state employees could start receiving redundancy notices as early as next week. "Hopefully we don't get to that point," said the governor.

While Walker said the job losses would not take effect immediately, he has warned in the past that up to 1,500 of the state's 300,000 employees could lose their jobs if the bill is not passed.

The proposed legislation aims to save money by increasing workers' contributions to pension and healthcare provision, both proposals that the unions have agreed to accept.

The most controversial part of the bill would be to remove the unions' right to negotiate on those pensions and healthcare, and while they would be allowed to continue negotiation on wages, the bill would end the automatic deduction of union subscriptions from pay and enforce the annual election of union officials.

The protests are spilling over to other states where Republican governors are planning similar measures. One of the biggest was expected today in Ohio where the governor, John Kasich, also wants to end collective bargaining.

Walker was supported in his election campaign and in the current battle by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is funded by the secretive, rightwing billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The New York Times said today that AFP's budget jumped from m (£4.3m) three years ago to m last year.

AFP is inviting people to show their support for Walker by visiting the web link "StandwithWalker.com", which redirects to AFP's site, "americansforprosperity.org". There, the Koch-funded group has published a petition. It says: "These common-sense reforms have made the union bosses desperate to disrupt Wisconsin government and overturn an election. They must not be allowed to succeed. In fact, every state should adopt Governor Scott Walker's common-sense reforms."

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