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Reality Check: Can Walker Decertify State Unions?

Published On: Dec 08 2010 05:59:23 AM CST   Updated On: Dec 08 2010 07:23:54 AM CST

Gov.-elect Scott Walker could be headed for a clash with state unions after saying he would consider the possibility of decertifying unions on Tuesday.

Walker is seeking deeper concessions from public employee unions, who have reached tentative contract agreements with the state. He said he wants union workers to pay more for their health care and pensions to help plug a state budget shortfall.

"Anything from the decertification all the way through modifications to the current laws in place," Walker told the Milwaukee Press Club Tuesday. "The bottom line is we want to have a better ability to control what we do when it comes to wages and benefits."

But can Walker decertify unions?

A WISC-TV analysis found that his comments need clarification. Decertification is only an act by union members themselves who vote to abolish their union. But can Walker simply stop negotiating with them, getting essentially the same effect?

If he changed state law, he could.

According to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, private employee unions are governed by federal law, but not public ones. State unions are subject to the State Employee Labor Relations Act, which could be re-written by Walker and a Republican-controlled Legislature.

Right now, the law says "in order to preserve and promote the interests of the public ... The employee and employer alike encourage the practices of collective bargaining in state employment." But lawmakers could simply strike that and other provisions of the act from state law.

"At the end of the day, the public services have to be provided, whether Scott Walker likes that or not," said Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME, the largest state employee union.

Unions, of course, will push back. Beil said Walker "wants to destroy a law that assures the uninterrupted delivery of high quality public services and has kept labor peace for more than three decades." Strikes have been against the law since 1971, but anger is mounting.

"I can't say there'll be a strike, but you keep pushing and pushing at people, they get frustrated," said Beil.

But other states do without collective bargaining. In fact, the governor of Indiana abolished state rules requiring union negotiation in 2005 that had been in place since 1990. And as of 2002, only 26 states have laws giving bargaining rights to all state employees.

Republican leaders will consider taking items like pensions or health care off the bargaining table or getting rid of bargaining language altogether.

The incoming leader of state Assembly Democrats said it's "shocking" that Walker would consider not negotiating.

State Rep. Peter Barca of Kenosha said Wednesday he thought Walker's comments about decertifying unions were a "bombshell" that voters should have been aware of before the election. He said Walker needs to better articulate what his vision is for the future of state employees.

Walker said Wednesday he's just putting all options on the table.

Democrats said that they hope to approve the union contracts in a lame duck session next week.

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