The most famous Democrats in Wisconsin — the 14 senators who fled the state to protest a legislative move to limit unions’ collective-bargaining rights — are expected to return to Madison on Saturday for the first time in nearly a month.

Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to rally in opposition to a bill signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Scott Walker that effectively ends the collective-bargaining power of public-sector employees — a measure critics have called an “assault” on unions.

Republicans in the state Senate pushed the legislation through earlier in the week, bypassing Democrats who had for weeks stalled action on it by leaving the state. The Assembly, where Republicans also have a strong majority, passed the measure easily.

Walker says the bill is necessary as part of an effort to get Wisconsin’s fiscal house in order. He maintains that the savings it will bring will prevent the layoffs of as many as 1,500 state workers in the short term and thousands more during the next two years. 

"We're doing this to lead the way in our own state, to get Wisconsin working again," Walker said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But if along the way we help lead a movement across the state to pass true fiscal reform, true budgetary reform, to ultimately inspire others across this country, state by state and in our federal government ... I think that's a good thing.”

Democrats in Wisconsin and Washington say his move is a political overreach as polls show the public generally supports collective bargaining rights. With the help of union leaders, they are targeting Republicans who supported the bill with a recall effort — although Walker has not served long enough to be eligible to be recalled.

Critics have also begun to challenge the law in court.