Union showdowns spread across the country

Appleton West High School students protest in support of their teachers on Feb. 17, 2011.

For some, what's going on in Wisconsin is the opening bell. But for others, like Ohio's governor John Kasich, it's a death knell for public unions, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

"If they want to strike, they should be fired," Kasich said.

Kasich, a Republican, thinks he can help close an estimated $8-billion budget gap in Ohio by limited the bargaining rights for public employees.

Photos: Wisconsin protests

"This is a budget fight and in that way it's like all other states trying to balance their budget - but this also has a charged ideological element," said CBS News political analyst John Dickerson.

Kasich isn't alone. Nine other Republican governors from Nevada to New Jersey are also targeting unions with various proposals: decreasing wages and bargaining power in some cases, increasing what workers contribute to pensions and benefits in others.

"Public sector unions do have a target on their back. They are the peg that's standing higher. And that's where the hammer is going to come down," said Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"Republican governors see pushback from unions as a badge of honor. For Democratic governors, they need unions," Dickerson said.

Which means Democratic governors, like New York's Andrew Cuomo and California's Jerry Brown have to tread more carefully.

"They are big states - with big unions. Big problems," Dickerson said.

Unions are a strong part of the Democratic base. So while Democratic governors may target compensation for state workers to ease budget problems, pushing to rollback union member rights to bargain creates political risk.

"We are at an unprecedented moment of reckoning. This perfect storm, I think, is the worst it's ever been," Jerry Brown said.

Unions don't have much of an upper hand. According to one poll, the favorability for labor unions remain at nearly their lowest level in a quarter century, with just 45 percent expressing a positive view.

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    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning" and other CBS News broadcasts.