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Wisconsin protesters can win, but not as they might think

In Wisconsin, and now Ohio, public unions are on the defensive over collective bargaining 'rights.' Both sides need to see the larger picture to find common ground.

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First Wisconsin, and now Ohio, have moved to deflate the power of public-worker unions. Other states, even with Democrats in charge, are asking concessions from government workers – on wages, pensions, and health benefits.

So far, the battle has been rancorous and divisive, appearing to pit unions against taxpayers. The focus has been on laws passed in many states since 1959 – starting with Wisconsin – that allow civil servants to strike or that require forced mediation in disputes.

Meanwhile, this struggle over “collective bargaining” by public unions is seen as a proxy for the future of private-sector unions, which have been in decline since 1970.

One side sees public unions as necessary to help government employees keep or achieve middle-class incomes, and even to reduce the nation’s rising disparity in income and a stagnation in wages.

Others see such public unions as inherently flawed, given their peculiar power to help elect politicians who often then cave to union demands while letting future taxpayers pick up the bill.

Both sides wrangle over conflicting studies on whether public workers are compensated higher or lower than private workers. They also debate how much civil servants must now share in the sacrifices needed to balance government budgets.


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