Demonstrators protest inside the state capitol February 22, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Demonstrators protest inside the state capitol February 22, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives have up and gone, just as their brethren in the Wisconsin Senate did last week. They're protesting a Republican plan to limit collective bargaining rights -- again, just as is happening in Wisconsin.

Actually, it's not just states in the upper Midwest. Activists are gathering at statehouses all over the country to protest bills that they say would balance state budgets by stripping unions of bargaining power.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler has more.

Jeff Tyler: Public employees in Wisconsin say they're willing to take an 8 percent pay cut, but they won't give up their collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin's governor won't compromise.

Similar battles over are brewing in Ohio, Indiana and other states. Bob Bruno is a labor professor at the University of Illinois. He says there isn't a lot of money to be saved by challenging the way unions negotiate.

Bob Bruno: At the end of the day, even if these Republican legislators and governors are successful, they're actually going to do very, very little for their state's fiscal soundness.

Bruno says collective bargaining has helped keep a lid on state spending.

Bruno: In these states that have collective bargaining, you see that unions have made various agreements to reduce costs, to increase productivity.

Many conservatives disagree. Vincent Vernuccio is with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Vincent Vernuccio: Union bosses want to inflate these budgets so they can get more members, so they can get more dues. And in turn, they take that dues money they have and give it to politicians who are going to give them more favors in the future.

Several states are considering bills that would allow workers to opt-out of a union. Again, Vincent Vernuccio.

Vernuccio: The main focus of this isn't just the budget cuts. It's actually giving workers the right to say no to the union if they so choose.

Professor Bruno also sees broader implications for the debate. Since union money helps support the Democratic party, he argues changes in collective bargaining could shake up the political landscape far beyond the Midwest.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

Follow Jeff Tyler at @JeffMarketplace