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In Union Strongholds, Residents Wrestle With Cuts

DAVID A. LIEB

RACINE, Wis. (AP) â¿¿ There once was a time when Harry and Nancy Harrington â¿¿ their teenage children in tow â¿¿ walked the picket line outside the nursing home where she was a medical aide, protesting the lack of a pension plan for the unionized work force.

But those days of family solidarity are gone.

Harry now blames years of union demands for an exodus of manufacturing jobs from this blue-collar city on the shore of Lake Michigan. He praises new Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for attempting to strip public employee unions of nearly all of their collective bargaining rights. Protesters opposed to Walker's plan have held steady at the Wisconsin Capitol for nearly three weeks, though their overnight sit-ins ended Thursday with a judge's order.

"I'm sorry, but the unions want to yell, they want to intimidate," says Harry Harrington, 69, as he sets a coffee cup down next to another newspaper headline about the union demonstrations.

"They want to be heard," retorts Nancy Harrington, 66, who fears a weakened union would jeopardize the teaching career of their now 38-year-old daughter.

The Harringtons typify the new national reality for labor unions. Support is no longer a sure thing from the middle class â¿¿ not even in a city long considered a union stronghold in a state that gave birth to the nation's largest public employee union. National polls show that the portion of the public that views unions favorably has dropped to near historic lows in recent years, dipping below 50 percent by some accounts.

But surveys also show a public uneasy with attempts to weaken union bargaining rights by emboldened Republican governors who swept into power in the 2010 elections amid concerns about state finances. A Pew Research Center poll released earlier this week found more adults nationwide sided with unions than the governor in the Wisconsin dispute.

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