Capping weeks of political drama and open political warfare with the state’s public-sector unions, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Friday quietly signed landmark legislation reining in the power of public-employee unions after a pitched battle over collective bargaining that shows no signs of abating.
Mr. Walker signed the measure a day after the GOP-dominated state Assembly approved the bill on a 53-42 vote, marking the end of a bitter three-week struggle at the Capitol in Madison that pitted the budget-cutting Republican governor and legislature against Democratic lawmakers and union demonstrators who framed the debate as a battle for the survival of the labor movement.
“This is ultimately about a commitment to the future, so our children don’t face even more dire consequences than what we face today,” Mr. Walker said at a news conference in the West Allis community of Milwaukee on Thursday. He signed the bill privately Friday and planned a ceremonial public signing and a press conference later in the day.
Also on Friday morning, Mr. Walker directed two state agencies to rescind layoff notices because the legislature had passed the bill. He argued the layoff notices were needed to prepare the state in case the budget standoff dragged on.
Thursday’s Assembly vote came a day after the Wisconsin Senate approved the bill 18-1 by using a legislative maneuver that allowed the chamber to vote without the 14 Democratic senators who fled the state in an effort to block the legislation.
After the vote Thursday, Assembly members filed out of the chamber as demonstrators in the packed gallery shouted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” The bill passed with no Democratic support, while four Republicans crossed party lines to oppose the measure.
Republicans said they were following the will of the voters. “People spoke very clearly and very loudly and said they wanted government to change here in Madison,” Republican Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said prior to Thursday’s vote. “It’s a tough vote, but it’s the right vote. People are sick of the status quo.”
Even with the bill’s passage, however, union supporters vowed the fight was far from over.
Organizers have launched a multifront effort to gain back their lost collective-bargaining ability that is expected to include a recall effort, at least one court challenge and a national walkout.
“What we have done, I think, is started a movement not only in Wisconsin but throughout this country — people standing up for workers’ rights and backing away from protecting the rich and the wealthy,” said Wisconsin state Sen. David Hansen on CBS-TV’s “The Early Show.”
David Madland, director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress, said the Wisconsin vote had triggered a nationwide pro-union movement. Even before Thursday’s vote, unions had begun the process of gathering signatures to recall the governor and as many as eight Republican state legislators.
“The big question is whether this is a short-term, Pyrrhic victory for Gov. Walker,” said Mr. Madland. “I think he’s sown the seeds of his own destruction and for a union revival.”
The Wisconsin bill ends collective bargaining, except for pay raises at or below the rate of inflation. The state will no longer collect dues on behalf of the unions, and union members must vote periodically to retain their union representation.
Mr. Walker argued that the legislation was necessary to keep down state spending — Wisconsin has a $137 million budget shortfall — and create a more job-friendly climate.
Union organizers said the bill would cripple state workers’ ability to negotiate on their own behalf.