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Wisconsin's controversial public union law takes effect

By John Rondy

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Wisconsin's controversial law limiting collective bargaining for public workers took effect on Wednesday.

The law eliminates most collective bargaining rights for most Wisconsin teachers, road workers and other public employees and requires them to pay more for pensions and health coverage.

The measure was passed in March by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. It triggered the largest public protests in Madison since the Vietnam War and prompted a national debate over unions.

Walker's office Wednesday said in a statement that Wisconsin is already seeing benefits from the law. The statement cited the example of prisoners in Racine County being allowed to perform more tasks such as landscaping, and a school district being able to hire more teachers.

A Milwaukee public school teacher who took part in demonstrations against the bill said it would hurt education in the long term.

"I think it is terrible that teachers are losing any voice in their workplace," said Judy Beehler, 62. She said the bill was also unnecessary, since teachers had already agreed to the financial concessions before the law passed.

"To me, this isn't about the financial part -- it's a power play by the Republicans to weaken the unions," Beehler said.

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by John Rondy; Editing by Greg McCune)

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