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The Associated Press June 14, 2011, 12:30PM ET

Latest union proposal exempts Wis. transit workers

The latest version of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plan to take away public employees' collective bargaining rights would be largely the same as what the Legislature passed in March, except local transit workers would be added to those who are exempt.

The Assembly is expected to vote on the new version this week as part of the state budget. A draft of it was released Monday. The Republican-controlled Legislature plans to add the collective bargaining changes to the budget since the law passed earlier this year is tied up in the courts and the Supreme Court has yet to rule in the case.

The proposal requires all public employees to pay more for their health care and pension benefits at the same time it takes away all collective bargaining rights except over raises no greater than inflation. Local police and firefighters, along with the state patrol, would retain their bargaining rights.

When Walker first released his proposal in February there was a concern that Wisconsin could lose about $46 million a year in federal aid if transit workers, primarily bus drivers, lost their collective bargaining rights. Federal law requires that collective bargaining agreements remain in place for workers paid with federal money.

Most bus systems in the state are staffed by unionized transit workers, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

State Rep. Robin Vos, co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee, said Monday that lawmakers couldn't be certain that the state wouldn't lose the federal money so the change was being made. He said it was the only significant change being proposed to what passed before.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie issued a statement voicing support for the latest version of the collective bargaining proposal, but not addressing the transit worker exemption. Walker said previously his original proposal would not put federal transit money in jeopardy.

Walker is counting on the public worker concessions generating about $300 million in savings to the state over the next two years to help balance the budget. He says local communities and school districts also need savings generated from the higher contributions for health and pension benefits to help them deal with cuts he's proposing in the budget the Legislature is expected to pass this week.

Democrats, labor organizations and other opponents say the real goal is to do away with public sector unions, and Walker and Republicans are using the cost-saving argument as a red herring to advance their political agenda.

Republican legislative leaders were hoping the state Supreme Court would overturn a lower court's ruling voiding the law that passed in March because of an open meetings violation. But Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said if the court didn't rule by Tuesday afternoon, the collective bargaining provisions would be added to the budget.

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