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Wisconsin: Ground zero in battle over clout of labor unions in US

At stake in the fight between unions and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the perception of public-sector unions and how much clout they'll retain in an era of tight budgets for state and local government.

A group of Sheboygan, Wis.-area teachers demonstrate Friday Feb. 18, protesting Gov. Scott Walker's plan to remove nearly all collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Bruce Halmo/The Sheboygan Press/AP

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A pitched political battle in Wisconsin, which gathered momentum with dueling rallies by labor union fans and foes Saturday, has grown into something broader than a debate about policies in a single state.

What's at stake is the perception of public-sector labor unions in the US, and how much clout they'll be able to retain in an era of tight budgets for state and local government.

It's a debate that goes echoes beyond the Midwest, and it resonates with many taxpayers who see union workers as enjoying premium benefit packages at their expense.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) argues that state employees should help fund their retirement plans by paying half of needed contributions into pension plans. The cost would equal about 5.8 percent of a typical state worker's paycheck.

As governors and legislatures struggle to balance their budgets, labor costs are one of the biggest expenses they face. Although unionized workers don't make up a majority of state employees, they account for a much higher share there than in the private sector.

Some 40 percent of public-sector workers are represented by labor unions, versus 7.7 percent of workers in the private sector, where union ranks have been declining for years.

So, how does union pay in the public sector stack up against that of private sector workers?

Here's a quick reality check:

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