The Union's Real Problem
The cause of the consternation is the "budget fix bill" proposed by the Governor, Scott Walker, that would require union members to pay 5.8% towards their retirement, and 12% (up from 6) of the cost of their health care premiums.
It would also restrict collective bargaining to wage packages only, other currently bargained items would fall under the same state laws (some of the most restrictive in the country) that non-represented employees are covered under.
If you spend a little time reading the articles, and especially the comments, in places like the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel you'll see many union members commenting that they'd be happy to bargain for those concessions, but not have them rammed down their throats.
I believe them, I think a good chunk would agree that they right now have a sweet deal that they can't justify to their friends in the private sector. At the same time, they don't want to lose their collective bargaining leverage on other issues, which I can't blame them for.
The problem is, it's not the rank and file pushing the issues, it's the union leadership, and frankly, they'd cave on the whole thing except for one small provision in the bill. That provision makes Wisconsin essentially a right to work state. It forbids the deduction of union dues from paychecks, and requires annual certification votes by members.
They also don't like this because for years they failed to unionize many public employees. During the eight years of Jim Doyle's administration a number of laws were passed that took that choice from the workers, and put them in unions without a vote by anyone but a Democratic controlled state legislature.
How did they manage that? It was actually easy, just find a group of non-represented workers who work in an area with a union presence; the University system's admin and some support staff for example; and reclassify their positions into a group that's already represented. Voila! You suddenly have thousands of new dues paying members without needing a vote by the affected people.