Workers have the right to bargain with their employees over wages, working conditions and benefits, but newly elected Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is trying to take that right away from state employees. Budget cuts are needed in Wisconsin, which, like many states, is facing a major budget shortfall. But instead of negotiating with public-sector unions, Walker is trying to eliminate them altogether. His actions have paralyzed Wisconsin as protesters have gathered at the Capitol, and he has set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the country. Governors facing deficits should work with unions to produce sensible budgets, not use shortfalls to attack public employees.

Wisconsin faces a $3.6 billion budget deficit over the next three years. Among Walker’s proposals to cover that gap is a bill that would require state employees to vote each year on whether their union should exist and limit public-sector employees’ right to yearly collective bargaining meetings with state officials. Since Walker announced his plan last week, protesters have crowded the state Capitol in Madison, jamming galleries and sleeping among statues on the rotunda floor. Fourteen Democratic senators have taken refuge in Illinois, leaving the state Senate without enough members to vote on the plan.

Union leaders in Wisconsin say they’re willing to accept all the cuts the governor has proposed. The fact that Walker continues to push for an end to collective bargaining proves that he isn’t interested in balancing the budget — he wants to dismantle the unions. Through misleading language of fiscal responsibility, Republicans in Wisconsin are working to break state-employee unions.

Wisconsin Republicans — including Walker — share a great deal of the blame for the state’s current fiscal woes. The new state Legislature irrationally passed $117 million in tax cuts as soon as members took office, knowing that the cuts would only increase the state’s multi billion-dollar deficit. Wisconsin Democrats deserve credit for their decision to leave the state. By preventing the state Senate from convening, they may force Walker to tone down his misguided proposal.

There are times when it may be necessary for the government to limit union rights, but there’s a big difference between limiting rights and taking them away all together. State employees hadn’t yet come to the bargaining table when the governor announced his plan to take away their right to bargain. They went on strike only after he refused to meet with union leaders. Walker’s effort to defeat public-sector unions is the latest assault in an unprecedented Republican offensive against working-class Americans.

Wisconsin’s careless governor has set a terrible precedent that other states under Republican leadership are beginning to follow. Republicans in Indiana and Ohio have proposed similar bills to limit both public- and private-sector labor unions. Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has, admirably, stated his intention to work with state employees’ unions through the budget process. This is the model that other states should follow as they face fiscal crises of their own. Wisconsin’s governor — and other Republicans — should foster a spirit of cooperation, rather than all-or-nothing policies.

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