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NFL Ref Lockout Brings Union Fights Back To Wis.


And now to Wisconsin, where people are still livid. It's been two days since a blown call by the NFL's replacement referees cost the Green Bay Packers a win against the Seattle Seahawks. Wisconsinites of opposing political persuasions were briefly united in their anger. But in a state with a Republican governor best known for attacking unions, even the issue of replacement refs is becoming a political football.

Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: To fans of the Green Bay Packers, the officials' call on the final play of Monday night's game in Seattle, still stings,

JIM PATTERSON: The call was horrible. And of course the outcome was as horrible. I didn't think it was real.

SCHAPER: Jim Patterson is eating lunch at Fred's Parkview, a restaurant and sports bar in Burlington, Wisconsin. Fred's claims to have the world's best burger and the world's friendliest people. Friendly, that is, until you start asking about Monday night's game.



BLICHARZ: It just sucked. It was so unfair. So unfair.

SCHAPER: Mark Blicharz and his mother, Terry Ferris, say the final call wasn't the only one blown by the replacement referees. The entire game, they say, was marred by bad calls. Blicharz says it's time for the league to end the lockout and bring the union officials back.

BLICHARZ: Experience matters, especially in such a fast-paced game.

SCHAPER: And on this point, many agree, including President Barack Obama and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who's a life long Packers fan. So too is Wisconsin Governor Scott walker, who tweeted about the call after Monday night's game and reiterated his point today.

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: It's just a clear sign for all of us who love football, particularly Packer football, they got to get the refs back. Union or no union, they just need them back because it's not working.

RANDY BRYCE: You got to be kidding me.

SCHAPER: Randy Bryce is a union iron worker. At a bar on Milwaukee's south side, he calls Walker's tweet in apparent support of union refs, a joke.

BRYCE: Here's this guy that is out, you know, out to bust unions and he has no clue.

SCHAPER: Bryce is the kind of fan who takes offense with anyone who says they're a bigger Packers' fan than him. But he hasn't watched a game this season, and says he won't, as long as the union referees are locked out. The league, he says, is getting what its paying for.

BRYCE: The rest of the world is now seeing what happens when you use replacement workers. I don't feel sorry. I've told people, if you watch the games, you deserve exactly what you get.

SCHAPER: To Bryce, the union helps ensure that a quality, well-trained workforce is building bridges, teaching students, and yes, officiating football games. But others take exception with those trying to link the NFL's labor dispute with Wisconsin's bitter battle over public sector unions.

PETE FITZPATRICK: Apples and oranges.

SCHAPER: Back at Fred's in Burlington, Pete Fitzpatrick says the NFL really is in a different league.

FITZPATRICK: Private businesses can do what they want and the government shouldn't interfere. Public sector jobs? Well, that's my money we're talking about now. So that's a whole - it's apples and oranges.

SCHAPER: But be that as it may, both Fitzpatrick and union supporters say this is one labor dispute they wish was over.

David Schaper NPR News, Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.

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