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Why GOP Politicians Are Fleeing Scott Walker-Style Union-Busting

State Republicans are terrified of pushing anti-union legislation -- and becoming targets like Wisconsin's governor.

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The presumptive GOP nominee for Washington state governor is also taking pains to send a “What, Me Walker?” message. Last month, in audio obtained by Politico, Attorney General Rob McKenna told a meeting of Puget Sound Carpenters, “Now, unfortunately, because of a couple of governors – particularly Scott Walker – everyone thinks that someone who’s going to be a Republican governor, they’re going to be Scott Walker. I’m not Scott Walker. This is not Wisconsin.” A spokesperson for McKenna’s presumptive Democratic opponent, who has made a point of tying McKenna to Walker, retorted to Politico that McKenna had pushed to privatize workers’ compensation, and “called the unionization of state employees ‘dangerous.’”

After Michigan Republicans passed an “emergency manager” law that allows appointees of Gov. Rick Snyder to throw out some local union contracts, some planned to push their own right-to-work bill. But facing a Wisconsin-style recall effort against Snyder, an Ohio-style referendum effort against the emergency manager law, and a pro-union constitutional amendment drive, the House’s leading right-to-work backer has held off on introducing a bill. Rep. Mike Shirkey told Michigan’s News-Herald last month that he wasn’t dragging his feet on right-to-work because of the pro-union efforts, but declined to say when he would introduce his own bill.

Despite these Republican retrenchments, labor faces a continuing crisis. Witness Indiana, which became the industrial Midwest’s first right-to-work state this year, or New Hampshire, which if not for a gubernatorial veto would have become New England’s. Or Connecticut, where liberal Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy proposed “education reform” that would curb collective bargaining for teachers in “low-performing” schools.

So the Cold Feet Caucus isn’t cause for labor to relax. Rather, it’s a reminder of what’s at stake in higher-profile battles – especially in Wisconsin, where Democratic voters this week nominated Tom Barrett to face down Scott Walker in next month’s recall. Four weeks out, the race is much too close to call. But it’s safe to say either unions or their opponents will emerge emboldened after the June 5 vote – not just in Wisconsin, but around the country.

If Walker ekes out a victory, it won’t represent a decisive mandate for legislative union-busting. But it will be enough to get some Republicans over their cold feet.

Josh Eidelson is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. He worked as a union organizer for five years. Check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.