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Reality Check: Is Budget Bill Political Payback?

Published On: Feb 14 2011 09:57:10 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 15 2011 02:29:50 AM CST
MADISON, Wis. -

Everyone who works for the state or local governments would lose their right to negotiate everything from vacations to sick leave under Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill -- but some unions are exempted.

Walker's bill would strip state and local government employees, including teachers, custodians and game wardens, of their ability to collectively bargain everything except their wages.

But the measure carves out a special exemption for local police officers, firefighters and the Wisconsin State Patrol.

Critics said the move amounts to political payback for unions that support Walker and could create a schism between government workers.

During his campaign for governor, Walker was endorsed by the Wisconsin State Troopers, as well as the Milwaukee Police and Firefighters associations and the West Allis Professional Police.

In all, five public employee unions endorsed Walker, and four of the five are completely unharmed by Walker's budget repair bill, WISC-TV reported.

Walker denied that the unions are getting political payback.

"I think that's utterly ridiculous, because if I was, I'd only carve out those areas. The statewide police union, the statewide firefighter union endorsed my opponent. If was rewarding political allies, it would be ridiculous to exempt them if that was the reason," Walker said.

It's true that the statewide unions did endorse Walker's opponent, Democrat Tom Barrett, and almost all police and firefighters are protected from changes under the bill, not just those in Milwaukee, WISC-TV reported.

Even though some unions are unharmed, some oppose Walker's proposal, calling it union-busting.

Some police would lose union rights under the bill, including Capitol and University of Wisconsin police. Walker said their work can be covered in the event of a slowdown, while local protection can't.

When asked why union rights should be any different for police, fire and state inspectors, Walker said that overall there is a different expectation.

"Currently, we've had a long tradition and when it comes to fire and police service in the state of Wisconsin. Statutes are very different when it comes to whole series of rights and responsibilities," Walker said.

According to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is no functional difference in labor law compared to other municipal employees, except that police and fire got the right to interest arbitration sooner than other unions did to help avoid strikes, and they do have slightly better benefits because of a dangerous work environment.

Four of the five unions that endorsed Walker are exempted from the changes, but the fifth one isn't, at least not completely.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 is based in Pewaukee. While the majority of its 9,000 members are private-sector employees, some work for counties and towns.

All week, WISC-TV's "Reality Check" will be getting answers about the governor's proposal and separating fact from fiction. People who have an idea for a Reality Check can e-mail it to realitycheck@channel3000.com.

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