Tag Archives: collective bargaining

Walker says White House interested in Wisconsin anti-union law

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said this week that he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence about how the White House can implement on a federal level parts of the Republican governor’s contentious measure that all-but eliminated collective bargaining for public sector unions in the state.

Pence, when he was governor of Indiana, frequently sparred with public employee unions and only awarded pay increases to state workers who received positive performance reviews.

And President Donald Trump has talked about wanting to weaken collective bargaining protections for federal workers.

Walker’s claim to conservative fame is he severely restricted union power in the state.

The Wisconsin law passed in 2011 barred collective bargaining over working conditions or pay increases greater than inflation, for most public workers while requiring them to pay more for health care and pension benefits.

The fight over its passage led to protests as large as 100,000 people and Walker’s recall election in 2012, which he won. Walker was the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall attempt.

Now the governor is talking with those in the Trump administration about “how they may take bits and pieces of what we did” with the union law and civil service reform and “apply it at the national level.”

“It’s something the vice president has brought up before,” Walker told reporters following a speech in Wauwatosa.

The AP reports that union membership in Wisconsin has dropped 40 percent since the law passed. In 2016, 8 percent of Wisconsin’s public and private-sector workers were in a union, below the national average of 10.7 percent.

“I don’t think that the model that Scott Walker has put forward is a model for success,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “That’s the model that the Koch Brothers have tried to spread everywhere.”

Charles and his brother David Koch operate one of the most powerful conservative groups in the nation and have supported efforts across the country to curtail union rights.

Trumka said collective bargaining is the best way to ensure workers get fair wages.

“If you’re going to get workers a raise you have to give them the right to collective bargaining unless you’re willing to impose a straightjacketed minimum wage on everybody,” Trumka said.


Supreme Court declines to reopen Walker campaign case

The U.S. Supreme Court will not take up an appeal on the John Doe 2 case, permanently ending a probe into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign against a recall.

The high court declined to reopen the John Doe 2 investigation, leaving in place the state supreme court’s decision that halted the John Doe probe into whether the Republican governor illegally coordinated with outside interest groups, specifically the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth. The state court’s decision was considered highly partisan.

In the probe, prosecutors were looking into whether Walker’s campaign coordinated with conservative groups on campaign ads in 2012. The governor was fighting off a recall effort after he signed his bill stripping public unions of collective bargaining rights.

The Wisconsin Justice Initiative on Oct. 3 said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision highlights a need to reform state judicial campaign laws.

“This unfortunate decision doesn’t erase the perception that money corrupted the deliberative process of the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” WJI executive director Gretchen Schuldt said. “That court’s majority took too much in campaign funds from too many players with interests in the case. The money raises suspicions that will never go away.”

The state should bar judges from participating in cases that include or might affect campaign donors, according to WJI. Also, judges should be blocked from participating in cases involving groups or individuals who have provided endorsements in the judges’ races.

“The integrity of the state supreme court has rightly been called into question,” Schuldt said. “The court itself does not want to restore it and the U.S. Supreme Court does not want to restore it. It is up to Wisconsin voters to insist that their legislators enact laws that will ensure the state supreme court is the pride of Wisconsin, not the huge embarrassment it is now.”

Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm issue a joint statement after learning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision: “We are disappointed by today’s Supreme Court order denying our Petition for Certiorari. The state supreme court decision, left intact by today’s order, prohibits Wisconsin citizens from enacting laws requiring the full disclosure of disguised contributions to a candidate, i.e., monies expended by third parties at the direction of a candidate for the benefit of that candidate’s election. We are proud to have taken this fight as far as the law would allow and we look forward to the day when Wisconsin adopts a more enlightened view of the need for transparency in campaign finance.”

Wisconsin Club for Growth president Eric O’Keefe, according to Wisconsin Public Radio, said, “From its inception, this proceeding was a politically motivated attack and a criminal investigation in search of a theory.”

The high court announced the decision without explanation on Oct. 3, the court’s first day of the fall term. The order said, “The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.


Wisconsin teacher of the year calls out Walker over comments

A former Wisconsin teacher of the year criticized likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker in an open letter this week, saying he’s misrepresenting the facts when telling an anecdote about a laid-off teacher.

The Republican Wisconsin governor recently defended his telling of the story, which he’s repeated many times and wrote about in his 2013 book, saying he’s been “very clear” in how he’s described what happened to the teacher.

Claudia Klein Felske posted recently on Marquette University’s College of Education blog that she was “surprised” and “bewildered” to hear Walker tell Iowa conservatives last month the story of how the 2010 teacher of the year had lost her job.

Felske was the 2010 high school teacher of the year, one of four teachers given the prestigious award by the state superintendent and recognized at a Capitol ceremony, and was not laid off.

Walker has frequently told the story of how “outstanding teacher of the year” Megan Sampson lost her job in 2010. The governor cites it as an example of what he called a broken system that he fixed by effectively ending collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers.

Sampson actually won the Nancy Hoefs Memorial Award, given by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English for first-year language arts teachers. And while she was laid off in June 2010 from a job in Milwaukee, she was hired by another nearby district for a job that following fall.

Walker wrote about Sampson in his 2013 book “Unintimidated” and clearly identified her as “the outstanding first-year teacher by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English.” But during a conservative summit last month in Iowa that attracted other potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates he described Sampson as “the outstanding teacher of the year in my state.”

That comment spurred Felske’s letter to Walker.

Walker, in a recent conference call with reporters in London where he was on a trade mission, called controversy over how he describes the award Sampson won a “petty distinction.”

“It’s very clear I’ve talked about this many times,” Walker said.

Felske wrote to Walker that he should not have blamed the seniority system under union contracts for Sampson’s layoff and that instead he “should have done some serious soul searching” over the impact of funding cuts he supported for public K-12 schools, technical colleges and the University of Wisconsin System in 2011 had in leading to Samson’s layoff.

Sampson’s layoff, however, preceded Walker’s election as governor.

Walker said those complaining over the teacher of the year distinction are “trying to redirect where the facts are.”

Flash Forward: Fast-tracked ‘right-to-work bill’ presents political conundrum for Walker

Gov. Scott Walker won re-election with 52 percent of the vote in a race that drew 55 percent of registered Wisconsin voters to the polls. That means only 28.6 percent of the state’s voters handed him a second term, which is far from the mandate he claims to have received.

But Walker’s victory, along with an increased Republican majority in the Legislature, allows the governor to continue dominating the state’s agenda in the same tight-fisted manner that he has for the past four years — and it’s not a solidarity fist. In fact, the GOP is expected to pass a so-called “right-to-work” bill at the beginning of the next legislative session on Jan. 5.

Political observers also expect Walker and the state GOP will continue to: hack away at government programs that benefit the middle class and the poor; offer taxpayer give-aways to wealthy cronies; restrict abortion rights; relax environmental and consumer protections; and expand the state’s school voucher program, which transfers taxpayer funding from cash-starved public schools to private and religious schools, including elite schools for the wealthy.

But during 2015, this new/old agenda will be complicated by the governor’s presidential aspirations, according to pundits from both parties. He’ll be playing more to the interests of a national audience and right-wing donors than to the needs of Wisconsinites. As political pundit James Rowen wrote in a recent blog post, “It’s all about Iowa, the state, not about Wisconsin’s Iowa County anymore.” (Neighboring Iowa holds the nation’s first caucuses for the next presidential campaign early in 2016.)

“Basically, we’re all subsidizing his personal, partisan quest for right-wing publicity, fundraising and eventually caucus and primary state voting, as he uses his position and state programs of all kinds for career advancement,” Rowen added.

The effect of Walker’s White House dreams can already be seen in how he’s handling Republican leaders’ efforts to fast-track a so-called “right-to-work” bill through the Legislature in January.

“We’re calling it ‘right-to-work-for-less’ legislation,” said state Rep. JoCasta Zamarippa. “We’re now wondering if they’re going to try pushing it through so quickly that it happens before the next term.” 

A longtime conservative activist in Wisconsin already has formed a group advocating for right-to-work. The group launched a radio ad statewide on Dec. 5 making the case that a right-to-work law would be good for Wisconsin’s economy. Democrats and labor unions promise to fight the measure, but they were unable to prevent Walker and Republicans four years ago and now the GOP has even larger majorities in the Legislature.

The actual effect of euphemistically named “right-to-work” laws is to require unions to represent all employees, regardless of whether they pay dues: Workers who pay nothing still enjoy all the benefits of union membership in right-to-work states. Non-paying workers who are represented by a union can even sue the union over how effectively it represents them. 

The intent behind such laws, of course, is to destroy unions. But in destroying unions, the laws lower workers’ compensation and workplace conditions for all workers.

On average, workers in right-to-work states earn $5,538 a year less than workers in states without such laws, according to the AFL-CIO. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the rate of workplace deaths in right-to-work states is 52.9 percent higher than in states without such laws.

Playing coy

Walker fears that after the Legislature passes a right-to-work bill there will be a public outcry of the sort that followed his busting of public unions in 2011. While that would enhance his standing as a hero among tea party militants, it would probably scare off other voters. They’d see him as too divisive and politically incompetent.

For this reason, Walker has been coy about enacting right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin. He’s dismissed his GOP colleagues’ efforts as a “distraction.”

That’s one subject on which Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca agrees with him. “As the governor himself previously indicated, this would be an extremely polarizing policy at a time when we should be working together to improve Wisconsin’s economy,” Barca said in a statement. He went on to urge Walker “to put the brakes on this divisive issue that clearly will damage Wisconsin’s middle class.”

The issue has prematurely thrust Walker in the first major political quandary of his second term. There’s no doubt that he supports such laws: He sponsored a right-to-work bill as a freshman Assembly member in 1993, and he’s said that his position on the issue has not changed.

But it appears from his statements that Walker either wants to play the issue both ways or would like to put off acting on it until he’s had time to craft his public image on a national stage. If Walker really wanted to stop right-to-work, he could simply threaten to veto it, which he refuses to do.

“I feel as if the right hand does not know what the far-right hand is doing on this,” said Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Schilling, D-La Crosse, “Walker could in one pronouncement put an end to this by saying, ‘I will not sign this.’ But to back off and say, ‘This is something the Legislature is doing and it’s not on my agenda’ — that is not accurate.”

Michigan model

Walker’s reluctance to take a firm stand mirrors how Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder dodged the issue in 2012 before he signed that state’s bill into law.

Synder repeatedly insisted during his first two years in office that right-to-work was not on his agenda. He reversed course in December 2012, a month after voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have barred such measures under the state constitution. He refused to say whether he would sign such a bill but never closed the door, saying he had other priorities.

Introduction of Michigan’s right-to-work bill generated mass protests. But the Legislature moved at lightning speed to pass it just five days later with no public testimony. Snyder signed it into law the same day.

Paul Secunda, labor law professor and program coordinator for Marquette Law School’s Labor and Employment Law Program, thinks there may be a benefit for Walker if there’s quick action on the issue. “If I were Scott Walker … I would think that signing it in a lightning-quick manner would be less detrimental to my national political aspirations,” he said.

That appears to be exactly the way that right-to-work will become law in Wisconsin in January. Pundits expect Walker to claim that he was merely following the wishes of elected officials and to deny responsibility for the bill. They also expect him to sign it late on a Friday afternoon or evening in an attempt to minimize its impact on the news cycle.

How the strategy works for Walker politically could depend on the vehemence of the opposition’s response. It’s generally believed that a replay of the 2011 fracas would be detrimental to his presidential prospects.

Union, NFL at odds over personal conduct policy

Saying the NFL is “making things up as they go along,” players’ union chief DeMaurice Smith wants the league and its owners to take disciplining players out of the hands of Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Already at odds over the process used to punish Ray Rice, the dispute heightened this week when the league suspended Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for the rest of the season for using a wooden switch to discipline his 4-year-old son.

The central issue remains the same for both sides: Finding a way to fairly hold players accountable for transgressions that damage the credibility and image of the league and its players. The union wants disciplinary power now held by Goodell to be handled by a neutral arbitrator. The league, so far, doesn’t agree.

And while both the league and the NFL Players Association want to change the personal conduct policy, the sides disagree on how to do it. The union wants to bargain for changes to the policy, while the NFL wants to implement changes with union input the same way it changes rules on the field, like when it moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line. 

Smith told The Associated Press in an email that the league indicated it was open to discussing the policy as recently as two months ago, but didn’t follow through in coming to the table. He said those discussions were distinct from the union representing Peterson in his case, though on a parallel track. 

“There is one fact that does make those things similar though, and that is the NFL is clearly making things up as they go along,” Smith said Tuesday night. “Our goal is to pursue a new personal conduct policy that is fair, transparent and consistent. The only way that happens is if the NFL and the owners commit to collective bargaining.”

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, countered that Goodell’s authority was collectively bargained with the union in 2011, while the personal conduct policy in place nearly 20 years has never been part of contract negotiations.

“The union agreed to the Commissioner maintaining authority to discipline. The league believes it is in the best interest of football to retain that authority,” Vincent said. “The league is following the process dictated by the CBA.”

The union and players helped revise the personal conduct policy in 2007, Vincent said. He said the league has had multiple meetings with the union this year on revising the policy using the same approach.

The rules in place now have some players and agents wondering if the NFL has too much power and whether the union fell short by agreeing to give Goodell central power over discipline in 2011.

Agent Jerrold Colton, who represents four-time All-Pro tackle Jahri Evans of the Saints, Steelers cornerback William Gay and six-time Pro Bowl kicker David Akers, said the union’s failure to negotiate changes to the personal conduct policy in 2011 was a “tremendous oversight.”

“I felt strongly at the time that it was a mistake and clearly it’s turned out to be one for the players the way it’s played out and we’re stuck with it for another six years,” said Colton, who said he thinks the players and league absolutely need an independent, third-party arbitrator. “Due process exists in most places in the United States except in the NFL.”

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell said the personal conduct policy needs more well-defined terms and clear guidelines based on precedent.

“Right now it’s kind of you know, one man has all the power and I don’t know if that’s ever really a good thing. I think Roger does his best to do the best that he can but I know he’s got a lot on his plate that he has to control,” Mitchell said. “I’m not just trying to bash him or come down on him but I think players would feel better if he wasn’t just judge, jury and executioner.”

Peterson pleaded no contest Nov. 4 to misdemeanor reckless assault in Texas for injuries to his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch. He said he intended no harm, only discipline.

Goodell told Peterson he will not be considered for reinstatement before April 15 for his violation of the personal conduct policy — the first example of a crackdown on players involved with domestic violence since stricter rules were put in place earlier this season.  

The union, which announced it plans an appeal on behalf of Peterson, is demanding a neutral arbitrator oversee the hearing in the same way Rice’s case was handled. Rice is waiting for an arbirtrator to decide whether his indefinite suspension should be upheld or overturned. Goodell made Rice’s suspension more severe when video of Rice hitting his then-fiancee was released online.

Goodell has said he hopes to have a new personal conduct policy ready before the Super Bowl.

Vincent said the league’s internal process _ including investigation, consulting independent experts, suspending players with pay and ultimately determining discipline _ has been fair and transparent while following the collective bargaining agreement.

“In reality, those who are most upset with the personal conduct policy are those who violate it,” Vincent said. “The vast majority of players do not come into contact with the discipline process.”

Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Jared Odrick said he disagreed with Peterson’s punishment by the NFL, saying it showed how much scrutiny NFL players face over personal actions.

“It’s great and unfortunate that we’re at the forefront of America showing how to do good and bad. It’s a responsibility placed on us,” he said.

AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Will Graves and Steven Wine contributed to this report.

Burke picks up endorsements from AFL-CIO, teachers unions

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has picked up endorsements from the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO and Madison Teachers Inc.

WEAC president Betsy Kippers, in a statement released on April 2, called Burke a “leader who values and respects the important role public education and educators play in our state.”

She continued, “The teachers and education support professionals who work in Wisconsin’s classrooms are convinced Mary Burke is committed to the long-term success of our public schools and will lead change through collaboration and fairness. Mary Burke will work together with all education stakeholders, parents, community and business leaders — with the best interest of children at heart.”

The WEAC said its top education issues in the race between Burke and incumbent Republican Scott Walker are investing in public schools, stopping the siphoning of tax dollars to private schools and restoring respect to educators.

The release from the union also said the race is “winnable.”

Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews said MTI believes Burke is “by far the better candidate because of her unparalleled commitment to education and her commitment to improve the lives of children and families of Wisconsin residents. An excellent education is not only the foundation of a strong democracy, but opens the door to success for all children.”

The endorsement from the Wisconsin AFL-CIO said it endorsed Burke after “after a collaborative and democratic process involving workers and leaders across the state.”

The union said Walker has attacked workers’ wages and collective bargaining rights, dismantled voting rights and “enacted hyper-partisan redistricting lines” while failing to create “good jobs for hard-working Wisconsinites.”

Burke, said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the state organization, “has a proven track record of creating good jobs with family-supporting benefits for Wisconsin workers.”

He added, “We know Mary Burke is the best candidate to represent working people across Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin judge: Officials in contempt for union curbs

A Madison judge on Oct. 21 found Wisconsin labor relations officials in contempt for enforcing parts of Gov. Scott Walker’s contentious bargaining restrictions despite a ruling that they’re unconstitutional, clearing the way for hundreds of school district and municipal worker unions to negotiate with their employers again.

Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled last year the provisions were unconstitutional as they applied to two unions representing Madison teachers and Milwaukee public workers, creating confusion about whether the ruling applied to all school and municipal workers across the state.

Colas ruled on Oct. 21 that his original decision wiped the provisions out of existence. He found the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in contempt of court and issued an injunction barring it from enforcing the restrictions against any school district or municipal worker union.

“I think this conduct was nothing more than an attempt to elude the application of a judgment the commissioners knew full well applied,” the judge said.

The state has appealed Colas’ original ruling from September 2012. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to take the case. It’s unclear when the high court might rule, however, and the WERC has continued to prepare for certification elections for more than 400 school district worker unions in November, as per the restrictions. The commission argued Colas’ ruling applied only to the Madison and Milwaukee unions.

Six unions filed a motion with Colas in September demanding he find WERC in contempt, arguing his ruling did indeed reach across the state.

“The defendants ignored you … and that cannot stand,” Lester Pines, an attorney who represents the Madison teachers as well as the Kenosha Education Association, one of the six unions that filed the contempt motion, told Colas during a hearing Monday. “If they do not respect the rulings of the court, the rule of law is meaningless.”

Steven Kilpatrick, a state Department of Justice attorney representing WERC, countered that the commission has refrained from enforcing the restrictions on the Madison teachers and Milwaukee workers.

But a circuit court judge’s rulings don’t extend beyond the parties in the case at hand unless the judge issues an injunction, he argued. Without a ruling from a state appellate court or the state Supreme Court stating otherwise, WERC is within its rights to enforce the restrictions against other unions, he said.

The unions’ attorneys said that argument would create situations where judges’ rulings affect some people but not others.

Colas’ ruling doesn’t affect state workers, who must still abide by the restrictions. But it means the school district union elections set for next month are off and school district and municipal workers are free to negotiate wages, hours, vacations and workplace conditions.

Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union and one of the groups that brought the contempt motion, declared victory outside the courtroom.

“It does amaze me they felt they were outside the ruling,” Kippers said.

WERC officials posted a statement on the agency’s website saying they will comply with Colas’ decision but plan to ask the state Supreme Court to stay the ruling. The elections could go on next month as planned if the court grants one quickly enough, the statement said. A group of conservative-leaning justices currently controls the court.

A Walker spokesman released a statement saying his administration was confident the court will uphold the law in its entirety.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a Walker-backed bill in 2011 that stripped most public workers of bargaining rights.

The plan allows their unions to collectively bargain only for raises limited to the rate of inflation. It also requires union members to vote each year on whether they want their union to continue representing them in those limited negotiations.

Democrats accused Walker of trying to cripple public labor unions, one of their key constituencies. Walker countered the measure gives state and local governments financial flexibility.

A federal judge in Madison and a federal appeals court panel have both found the law constitutional.

Recall, elections dominated Wisconsin headlines in 2012

Wisconsin’s governor survived a recall attempt and Janesville’s congressman had a shot at becoming vice president. There were five statewide elections in seven months, making it nearly impossible to escape robocalls and campaign ads. A white supremacist killed worshippers at a Sikh temple, a judge struck down a contentious collective-bargaining law and three Wisconsin soldiers were killed.

Some of the names and stories that defined the state in 2012:


• Scott Walker: He became the nation’s first governor to win a recall election when he turned back a Democratic effort to oust him for pushing to end collective-bargaining rights for most public workers. Walker beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by 7 percentage points, in a rematch of the 2010 governor’s race. Walker’s lieutenant governor and three GOP state senators also survived recall attempts, but state Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine was defeated.

• Paul Ryan: Ryan’s political career got a major boost when he was selected as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate. Although Romney lost, Ryan retained his House seat and will resume his role as Budget Committee chairman. Ryan has hinted at a presidential run in 2016.

• Candidate visits: As Wisconsin’s importance as a presidential battleground state grew more evident, politicians from both parties logged visits to Milwaukee, Madison and the Fox Valley areas. There were stops from Barack and Michelle Obama, Biden and former President Bill Clinton. Romney, Ryan and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made appearances as well.

• We approve this message — again: The presidential race capped off a seemingly endless election cycle, with five statewide elections between April and November. All those campaigns, along with outside groups, spent millions of dollars on TV ads, glossy mail and robocalls. But in the end little changed: Obama carried Wisconsin again, Walker held on, all seven congressional incumbents won, the U.S. Senate seat remained in Democratic hands and Republicans maintained the Assembly and regained the state Senate.

• Tammy vs. Tommy: Sen. Herb Kohl’s pending retirement triggered the most expensive U.S. Senate fight in state history. Fellow Democrat and former U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin won, becoming Wisconsin’s first female senator and also the first openly gay candidate ever elected to the chamber. She defeated former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who had never before lost a statewide race.


• Collective bargaining: The issue that prompted the entire Walker recall got sidelined by Dane County Judge Juan Colas. The law limited collective bargaining for most public employees, but Colas ruled in September that it violated union members’ constitutional rights to free speech and equal representation. Republicans have said they’ll ask the state appeals court to place the ruling on hold.

• Voter ID: A new law favored by Republicans went into effect requiring voters to show photo identification at the ballot box. The law was in place for a February primary but two judges blocked the measure for any subsequent election in 2012. Republican state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen pledged to continue fighting to have the law upheld.

• Health Exchanges: Staying true to his longtime opposition to Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Walker joined with other Republican governors in deciding to hand off creation of an online health exchange to the federal government.


• Sikh temple: For reasons that remain unknown, a white supremacist opened fire at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek in August. Wade Michael Page killed six people and injured four others, then took his own life. Michelle Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder were among the dignitaries who paid their respects.

• Spa shooting: About two months later, another gunman took innocent lives in southeastern Wisconsin. Radcliffe Franklin Haughton, who had terrorized his wife for years, killed her and two other women at the spa where she worked. Four other women were wounded before Haughton killed himself.

• John Doe: A secret investigation into six former Walker aides and associates appears to be wrapping up. Five of the six were convicted on charges ranging from theft to doing campaign work on county time. The John Doe investigation, which involved allegations against people close to Walker during his time as the Milwaukee County executive, began six months before Walker was elected governor. Walker has not been charged.

• Milwaukee Archdiocese bankruptcy: About 500 men and women filed sex-abuse claims against the Milwaukee Archdiocese by a February deadline, a step that came after the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy the previous year. The archdiocese said pending sex-abuse lawsuits could leave it deep in debt.


• Unemployment: Wisconsin’s unemployment rate continued to track better than the national level. The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in October was 6.7 percent, compared to 7.7 percent in November for the U.S. However, according to PolitiFact, Wisconsin has created about 25,000 jobs on Walker’s watch, far from the 250,000 he promised as a candidate.


• Thirsty crops: A persistent drought took its toll across much of the nation. In Wisconsin, harvests of tart cherries and maple syrup were decimated. But the heat was good for consumers who like their peppers potent, because certain vegetables grown in overheated conditions produce more of the chemical that gives peppers their spicy kick.

• Heavy rains: A summer storm dumped as much as 6 inches of rain in parts of northern Wisconsin. The June storm caused more than $23 million in damage at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where nearly every building sustained flooding damage.

• Snow-free Milwaukee: Milwaukee set a record by going 288 consecutive days without measurable snowfall.


• Night deer hunt: A federal judge in December blocked the state’s Chippewa bands’ attempt to allow tribal hunters to go after deer at night, a move that flew in the face of the state’s long-standing ban on the practice.

• Wolf hunt: Lawmakers created the state’s first organized wolf hunt. The goal was to harvest 116 wolves during this year’s inaugural hunt. Those goals will likely be reached before the official end of the season Feb. 28.

• Mining: The Legislature failed to pass a mining bill that would have jump-started an iron-ore mine in northwestern Wisconsin. The GOP-authored bill died in the state Senate after Republican Dale Schultz broke ranks. But Republicans’ majority grows to 18-15 next year and they plan to reintroduce the measure.

Sing-along: Excerpts from persistent Wisconsin protesters’ songbook

A group of about 50 Wisconsin demonstrators has been singing protest songs inside the Madison Capitol every day at noon for almost two years.

Their target is Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who pushed a law stripping public employees of certain labor rights. The demonstrators have a songbook of 44 songs, many of them traditional songs that have had the lyrics changed to target Walker.

Here are excerpts from a sampling of songs:

• “We Shall Overcome” – “We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day. … Oh, deep in my heart I do believe Walker won’t be governor some day.”

• “This Land is Your Land” – “This house is your house, this house is my house, from the rotunda to the governor’s office. Scott Walker will never push us out. This house was made for you and me.”

• “When We Make Peace,” sung to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In” – “When there’s respect, for workers’ rights, when there’s respect for workers’ rights, oh I want to be in that number, when there’s respect for workers’ rights.”

• “It Isn’t Nice” – “We have tried negotiations, and crossin’ the state line. Somehow Walker didn’t see us – you know, he might as well be blind. Now our new ways aren’t nice, when we deal with men of ice, but if that is freedom’s price, we don’t mind.”

• “Pass the Cheddar,” sung to the tune of “Jambalaya” – “Goodbye Scott, you gotta go, me oh my oh, you’re as harmful as your buddy in Ohio. To prevent you from further destruction, we will protest all over Wisconsin.”

• “Oh, Scott Walker,” sung to the tune of “Oh, Susanna” – “Oh, Scott Walker, now don’t you mess with me. I come from all Wisconsin with a sign for you to see. Well, it snowed all day that Saturday, the people didn’t care. Their cause so hot it kept them warm, and thousands filled the square. Now I come from all Wisconsin with my ballot in my hand, and I say to you Republicans I’m gonna take a stand.”

• “Scotty, We’re Comin’ for You” – “I never knew how much I loved Wisconsin, ‘till I stood in the Capitol dome. Signs on the walls and drums in the halls, cries of “Freedom!” ringing out all night long. All of us standing together, teachers in red, cops in blue. Hundreds of thousands show people have power. So tell me what are we gonna do? Scotty, we’re coming for you!”

On the Web…


Wisconsin judge strikes down Walker’s anti-union law

A Wisconsin judge has struck down nearly all of the state law championed by Gov. Scott Walker that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers.

Walker’s administration immediately vowed to appeal the Sept. 14 ruling, while unions, which have vigorously fought the law, declared victory. But what the ruling meant for existing public contracts was murky: Unions claimed the ruling meant they could negotiate again, but Walker could seek to keep the law in effect while the legal drama plays out.

The law, a crowning achievement for Walker that made him a national conservative star, took away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most workers and has been in effect for more than a year.

Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled that the law violates both the state and U.S. Constitution and is null and void.

In his 27-page ruling, the judge said sections of the law “single out and encumber the rights of those employees who choose union membership and representation solely because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by both the Wisconsin and United States Constitutions.”

Colas also said the law violates the equal protection clause by creating separate classes of workers who are treated differently and unequally.

The ruling applies to all local public workers affected by the law, including teachers and city and county government employees, but not those who work for the state. They were not a party to the lawsuit, which was brought by a Madison teachers union and a Milwaukee public workers union.

Walker issued a statement accusing the judge of being a “liberal activist” who “wants to go backwards and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the legislature and the governor. We are confident that the state will ultimately prevail in the appeals process.”

Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck said DOJ believes the law is constitutional.

The ruling throws into question changes that have been made in pay, benefits and other work rules in place across the state for city, county and school district workers.

Walker’s law, passed in March 2011, only allowed for collective bargaining on wage increases no greater than the rate of inflation. All other issues, including workplace safety, vacation, health benefits, could no longer be bargained for.

The ruling means that local government and schools now must once again bargain over those issues, said Lester Pines, an attorney for Madison Teachers Inc. that brought the case.

“We’re back to where we were before the law was enacted,” he said.

Pines predicted the case would ultimately be resolved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

“What’s going to happen in the interim is unknown,” he said.

The state Supreme Court in June 2011 ruled that the law was constitutional after it had been blocked by a different Dane County judge on a challenge over its passage being a violation of open meetings law.

Walker introduced the proposal in February 2011, six weeks after he took office. It resulted in a firestorm of opposition and led to huge protests at the state Capitol that lasted for weeks. All 14 Democratic state senators fled the state to Illinois for three weeks in an ultimately failed attempt to stop the law’s passage from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The law required public workers to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits at the same time it took away their ability to collectively bargain over those issues. Walker argued the changes were needed to help state and local governments save money at a time Wisconsin faced a $3 billion budget shortfall.

Anger over the law’s passage led to an effort to recall Walker from office. More than 930,000 signatures were collected triggering the June recall election. Walker won and became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall.

The lawsuit was among several filed against the law.

A coalition of unions filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in June 2011, arguing that the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause because it exempted firefighters and police officers. A federal just upheld most of the law in March, but the rulings are under appeal.

Another lawsuit was filed in July 2011 by two unions representing about 2,700 public workers in Madison and Dane County. They also challenged the law on equal protection grounds. The case is pending.

Democrats and unions were ecstatic with the recent ruling.

“As we have said from day one, Scott Walker’s attempt to silence the union men and women of Wisconsin’s public sector was an immoral, unjust and illegal power grab,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.

The Democratic minority leader in the state Assembly called the ruling a huge victory for workers and free speech.

“This decision will help re-establish the balance between employees and their employers,” said Rep. Peter Barca.

Republican Rep. Robin Vos, a staunch supporter of the law and the presumptive next speaker of the Assembly, called the ruling an example of the “arrogance of the judiciary.”

“I’m confident it’s a single judge out of step with the mainstream,” Vos said. He said the law is working “and we’ll continue to implement it.”