Burke reiterates opposition to parts of union law

Mary Burke
Mary Burke

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke is reiterating her opposition to parts of the law championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, saying she would work to repeal parts of it.

Burke has won backing from several major unions even though she has not pledged to repeal the 2011 law, known as Act 10, if elected. Burke also supports parts of the law that require workers to pay more for health care and pension benefits – provisions the unions that fought the bill agreed to during the legislative debate three years ago.

Burke reiterated her position on the law in a Wisconsin State Journal story published Sunday, saying that she would work to repeal portions that ban required union dues collection and automatic dues deductions. Burke said she also opposed a provision requiring a majority of an employee group to vote every year to remain unionized.

More than a dozen of the state’s largest private- and public-sector unions have endorsed Burke, despite her nuanced position on Act 10. The law triggered massive protests, became Walker’s signature legislative achievement and led to a failed effort to recall him from office in 2012.

Walker’s recall election victory and the attention from the bitter fight over the law made him a national conservative star and is helping to fuel talk of a possible 2016 presidential run.

“The recall election put the fate of Act 10 in the hands of voters, who ultimately stood with Governor Walker and his willingness to make the tough decisions previous leaders chose to ignore,” said Walker campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre. “By asking public employees to make modest contributions to their pensions and health care premiums and giving local governments and school districts the flexibility to manage their budgets, Governor Walker has set Wisconsin up for long-term financial stability.”

Burke has said she supports making wages, hours, benefits and working conditions mandatory subjects of bargaining for public employees.

But she called the annual elections, the prohibition on requiring union dues of all employees, and a ban on automatic dues collections “nothing more than heavy-handed attempts to punish labor unions” and said she would work to repeal those provisions.

Burke said she would have used the collective bargaining process to achieve the pension and health insurance contributions that helped balance the state budget. But she does not want to reset the law to before Act 10, when state employees could pay no more than 20 percent of health insurance premiums and could bargain with employers to cover their full pension contribution.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to soon rule on a legal challenge to Act 10 by the Madison teachers union. Last week Burke, a Madison School Board member, voted to extend the school district’s contract with the union through the 2015 school year.

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