On, Wisconsin After recalls fail, the teachers union lays off 40% of its staff.

 The Battle of Wisconsin ended with a whimper on Tuesday as two Democrats facing recall elections for their roles in the fight over union reform hung on to their seats. Four of six Republicans up for recall did the same last week. After Greek-style protests in Madison, a judicial election and tens of millions of dollars spent, voters weren’t in the mood for revenge after all.

For all the hullabaloo, the great upheaval prophesied by the unions never came true. Republicans still control the state senate. The national unions went home. Badger State voters got a balanced budget without tax increases, and the spectacle of Democratic senators fleeing to Illinois to avoid a vote became an unpleasant memory. Life goes on.

Since Governor Scott Walker’s union reforms and budget legislation went into effect, school districts have saved money with competitive bids for their health-care plans. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the change will save Milwaukee some $25 million a year and as much as $36 million in 2012, more than compensating for the cuts in state aid to the city.

National unions descended on Wisconsin to fight over collective bargaining because the real line of scrimmage was the political power of the unions. Since the legislation ended government collection of union dues, the ability of unions to strong-arm their members has already begun to wane.

On Monday, the Wisconsin Education Association Council announced it will lay off about 40% of its staff, a change executive director Dan Burkhalter blamed on Mr. Walker’s “union-busting legislation.” In December the union will face another reality check, as 51% of its members must vote to recertify it as their representative. With members no longer captive dues payers, the union has been forced to begin new outreach efforts, including home visits, to sell its relevance to workers.

The net effect of more than $30 million spent in Wisconsin’s recall elections may seem like an exercise in futility, but the real lesson may be that voters were never as enraged by the policy dispute as the political professionals said they were. Unions made Wisconsin a great battleground to send a message to other states that politicians who challenge union power will pay a price. The real price was paid by the unions themselves, in the national demonstration of their diminishing power.

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