What Wisconsin says about labor unions' clout in America

Here are seven questions the Wisconsin union protest raised about the role of unions in the US.

2. Why was Governor Walker so determined to limit collective bargaining and push other changes?

AP Photo/Morry Gash
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks about the budget bill at a signing ceremony March 11., in Madison, Wis.

Wisconsin faces a budget shortfall of $3.6 billion for the next two years. The cuts to workers' benefits Walker sought save the state about $300 million over that time, he says.

Unions agreed to many financial concessions. But Walker seemed to want to capitalize on the moment – with a Republican-controlled Legislature – to strip the unions of their clout for the future.

Some experts point to problems in the way public-sector negotiations are structured: The market discipline that can limit concessions to unions in the private sector is often absent, especially when government officials agree to benefits whose cost isn't felt until after they leave office.

"It's a crucial moment for the unions, but it's a crucial moment fiscally for the state and local governments," says Henry Farber, a Princeton University economist.

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