Just three Senators needed to end Wisconsin stalemate

Teacher Michael Mulvey of West Allis, Wis., carries a sign in the rotunda at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis., Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011. Opponents to the governor's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers are on their sixth day of protesting. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

To end a high-stakes stalemate over union rights that has captured the nation’s attention, a handful of Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin might have to stand up to their new governor.

Gov. Scott Walker made clear Sunday he won’t back off his proposal to effectively eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public employees. Senate Democrats who fled the state last week to delay the plan vowed not to come back to allow it to pass — even if they have to miss votes on other bills Tuesday. And union leaders said they would not let up on protests that have consumed Wisconsin’s capital city for a week and made the state the center of a national debate over the role of public employees’ unions.

That dynamic means it might take Republicans in the Legislature who believe Walker is going too far to try to break the impasse. One idea that has been floated by GOP Sen. Dale Schultz would temporarily take away bargaining rights to get through the state’s next two-year budget, then immediately restore them.

While it’s unclear whether that would be acceptable to his colleagues, Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said in a phone interview from the hotel room in Chicago where he’s hiding out that Schultz was brave for making the proposal. He said Schultz, of Richland Center, and five or six other Republican senators who have ties to organized labor are in the best position to get both sides to negotiate a deal.

Protesters who crowded inside the Capitol for a sixth day Sunday had a similar message. They hung a banner in the Capitol reading “Wisconsin needs 3 cou(R)ageous Senators,” referring to the number of Republicans needed to join with Democrats to block the bill.

So far, there’s little evidence of a move to compromise. “Won’t happen, won’t happen, won’t happen,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. The Juneau Republican said he spoke with every member of his caucus over the weekend and they remained “rock solid” in their support for Walker’s plan, even if they had some internal disagreements earlier.

Fitzgerald said Republicans could not back down now because the governor’s two-year budget blueprint, to be released in coming days, slashes spending for public schools and municipal services by $1 billion or more. Local government leaders will need to make cuts without bargaining with employees, he said.

Walker’s plan would allow unions representing most public employees to negotiate only for wage increases, not benefits or working conditions. Any wage increase above the consumer price index would have to be approved in a referendum. Unions would face a vote of membership every year to stay formed, and workers could opt out of paying dues.

The plan would also require many public employees to cut their take home pay by about 8 percent by contributing more of their salaries toward their health insurance and retirement benefits. Union leaders said their members are willing to accept those concessions, but they will not give up their right to collectively bargain.

Mariah Clark, an emergency medical technician at the University of Wisconsin hospital and a volunteer firefighter, said she stands to lose $250 per month with the benefits concessions. Standing on a bench holding a sign reading “EMT. Firefighter. Not the public enemy,” she said the pay cut would hurt, but that’s not why she was protesting.

“I really believe this is about workers everywhere, not just public employees,” said Clark, 29. “It’s pathetic that in Wisconsin, one of the places where the labor movement started, that this would happen.”

Wisconsin was the first state to enact a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959. It’s also the birthplace of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the national union representing all non-federal public employees, which was founded in 1936 in Madison.

Walker said the concessions would help close a projected $3.6 billion budget deficit through June 30, 2013, and the changes to weaken unions would pave the way for local and state governments to operate more efficiently for years to come.

The Republican-controlled Assembly is expected to meet Tuesday to consider the plan. With Senate Democrats in Illinois, Fitzgerald said the Senate would meet without them to pass non-spending bills and confirm some of Walker’s appointees. While Republicans are one vote short of the quorum needed to take up the budget-repair bill, they need only a simple majority of the Senate’s 33 members to take up other measures.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, speaking from “an undisclosed location in northern Illinois,” said it’s up to Republicans who privately have concerns with Walker’s plan to force the governor to compromise.

“I think it’s important those talks begin because there’s a lot of Republicans that are uncomfortable with stripping away the rights of workers,” the Monona Democrat said. “They recognize public workers are their constituents and neighbors and want them respected. We need to find a way for those Republicans to be able to be part of a solution.”

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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6 Responses to "Just three Senators needed to end Wisconsin stalemate"

  1. Almandine  February 21, 2011 at 11:40 am

    I guess one can say it’s come full circle.

    For years it seems that many public service workers have enjoyed compensation packages that include remuneration beyond what the private sector folks have achieved. Good salaries, defined benefit retirement plans, fully paid health insurance… all bargained for effectively, all beyond what the average private sector worker got.

    What’s the problem??? The state [private citizenry] must pay for it all.

    So it all goes now to whose ox is being gored… the citizens in Wisconsin were bled excessively for as long as their economy could stand it, and now the govt workers are being asked to chip in their part. They seem reluctantly willing to do that at the state govt level, as long as they get to keep their “bargaining” rights.

    So what’s the problem with that??? The unions have agreements with counties and cities, whose largesse extends beyond that of the state, meaning that to merely reign in state-sponsored benefits / bargaining and leave the unions able to bargain with local govts would only move the problem to that level of govt. The unions would likely prevail against local govts, who get funding from the state.

    So here we have it… the people of Wisconsin have elected the man who says he will set their economic ship of state on a sustainable course, and he seems fully intent on doing just that. The voters were ostensibly both Dems and Repubs who understood the crisis at hand and were willing to suck up certain govt services, etc., to get it done. They are asking the union folks to do their part, as well, which means working at all levels of state govt in as much harmony as is needed to do the job… BUT NO, the union folks have said you won’t take our “collective” voice by which we can overcome less organized citizens.

    Yep, it’s full circle… the private citizenry has been taxed to support the unions beyond a reasonable ability to pay for years – now $3.6B in debt – and has said, enough is enough. The unions cry, “we have agreements with you and why are you trying to steal both our benefits and our bargaining rights. That’s guaranteed to us.”

    What’s the problem with that ??? That’s exactly what private citizens have been saying to govt forever… “we are taxed enough to cover your schemes that we don’t even want. Quit stealing from us!”

    Full circle, I tell you.

  2. bmclellan  February 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    The problem is lack of debate and full disclosure of all the elements before the vote. All reasonable requests if you ask me.

    • Almandine  February 21, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      Full disclosure would be than reasonable… it is always necessary, even if those most closely involved don’t want the light of day to shine in.

      There’s probably a bone to pick for just about everyone.

    • Almandine  February 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      Here’s an interesting disclosure:

      http://dailycaller.com/2011/02/21/wisconsins-teachers-make-a-little-more-money-than-theyre-letting-on/

      • griff  February 21, 2011 at 6:06 pm

        Yeah I feel real sorry for those destitute teachers, each making at least twenty thousand dollars in salary above the state average income, with fringe benefits to boot. And summer’s off? My heart, how it bleeds!

        Wisconsin ranked 21st in education and 38th in education reform By ALEC.

        Welcome to what has become reality for the rest of us plebs in the private sector. Reduced wages and lost benefits, no pensions, longer hours, and of course we have to actually perform at our jobs or we lose them.

  3. dvl666  February 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    It’s not about the money, the unions have all agreed to pay the costs by theway which were negotiated in lieu of higer wages over the past 35 years. When I started in 1967 I paid both health and retirement (the retirement money I paid is not taxed). Over the years I bargained to have employer pick up 88% of the health and all of the retirement, started at 3% and is now 5.8%. To get that I took less in salary and thge employer saved FICA taxes.
    Walkers plan would take away bargaining such things as class size, lay offs , sick days, fair share, long term care, long term disability, and on and on.
    It would limit a person to no more than a COLA raise, effectively making ones starting salary their final salary in terms of puchasing power. It would eliminate salary schedules and make it easy to fire or lay off expierenced teachers who make thehighest salaries which will surely happen.
    Most of those things have no relation to a ‘balanced budget.’
    Love the GOP, get the workers who wages have stagnated for 30 years fighting over a bone while their coporate hand outs make the top 2% richer. They already effectively defeated private sector workers by shipping the jobs to cheap labor states or countries and negotiating contracts that severly limit thebenefits of new workers. Since most public sector jobs cannot be relocated they know if they bust the ‘unions’ they will have made all of into wage serfs.If you work for a living you’re next.

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