The fight to balance Wisconsin’s state budget intensified yesterday as Governor Scott Walker issued an ultimatum to Democratic Senators who have refused to return to the capital to vote on the budget repair bill. The ultimatum comes as Wisconsin approaches a crucial deadline to restructure its debt. But while the fight has become more intense, there has never been a shortage of heat in this debate.

Union leaders have been especially vocal, with SEIU President Mary Kay Henry characterizing Walker’s proposal to weaken collective bargaining, as part of a “struggle for economic justice”. Even President Obama weighed in, calling it an “assault on unions”. But while the controversy continues to attract national media attention, there has been little focus on what exactly collective bargaining is and how it works in a system with government unions. And with a majority of union members now in government rather than the private sector, this is an important issue to understand.

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