AFSCME leader says beating Wisconsin Republican Gov. Walker is union's top priority

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MADISON, Wisconsin — The leader of the nation's largest public sector union said Wednesday that defeating Gov. Scott Walker is its top priority this fall, a pledge that the Wisconsin Republican's campaign dismissed as a sign that unions were bitter over his success.

"We have a score to settle with Scott Walker," Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told the Washington Post in a story published Wednesday.

Walker's signature legislation passed in 2011 over massive protests and union opposition effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, while also requiring them to pay more for benefits to help deal with a state budget shortfall. The law also barred automatic deduction of union dues from worker paychecks.

Union members, along with other Walker opponents motivated largely over anger related to the anti-union law, forced him to stand for recall in 2012. Walker won, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to defeat such an effort.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court in July upheld the law as constitutional.

Walker is running for re-election this year against Democrat Mary Burke, a former Trek Bicycles executive and state Commerce Department secretary. Burke supports restoring collective bargaining for public workers and automatic union dues deductions. But she doesn't want to undo other parts of Walker's law, including requiring workers to pay more for pension and health insurance benefits.

Burke's campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki had no comment on Saunders' comments, but Walker's spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said it showed that union leaders were "bitter" because the law saved $3 billion.

"When the union bosses say they 'have a score to settle with Scott Walker,' they really mean Wisconsin taxpayers because that's who Governor Walker is protecting with his reforms," Marre said.

Walker is in a tight race with Burke. The most recent Marquette University Law School poll, released in August, showed the race to be about even.

Saunders, president of the union that has about 1.6 million members nationwide, has talked previously about the need to support Democratic candidates in other states to prevent what happened in Wisconsin spreading.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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