MADISON, Wis. (AP) — As union supporters moved inside for a sixth straight day of protests at the Wisconsin Capitol, Gov. Scott Walker reiterated Sunday that he wouldn't compromise on the issue that had mobilized them, a bill that would eliminate most of public employees' collective bargaining rights.
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Democratic lawmakers have said they and union members would agree to financial concessions that the Republican governor wants in exchange for workers keeping their collective bargaining rights. But Walker said he wasn't willing to budge, and he expected the bill to pass as is.
"We're willing to take this as long as it takes because in the end we're doing the right thing," he told Fox News from Madison.
The controversial measure led to massive protests that started Tuesday and have gained steam each day. An estimated 68,000 people turned out Saturday. Most opposed the bill, but the day marked the first time that a significant contingent of Walker supporters showed up to counter-protest.
Hundreds of protesters gathered inside the Capitol on Sunday, as snow turned into freezing rain that made walking outside the building a challenge. The demonstrators banged on drums and danced in the Capitol Rotunda while they chanted, "This is what Democracy looks like" and "union busting!"
Jacob Cedillotootalian, a 27-year-old University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student and teaching assistant, said Sunday was the third night that he slept in the Capitol as part of a union representing teaching assistants and he didn't see an end coming anytime soon. He said he was worried about paying more for his health insurance and tuition, but what kept him protesting was the possibility of losing the union.
"Normalcy would be nice," the English instructor said. "But it seems the governor and the state Republicans are intent on taking these rights away."
The bill would require government workers to contribute more to their health care and pension costs and limit collective bargaining to pay increases less than the Consumer Price Index. Walker says the measure is needed to deal with the state's projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
Drenched in rain, former Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke arrived Sunday to protest. A former state senator, Wineke said he was impressed by the 14 Democratic state senators who fled Wisconsin on Thursday to delay a vote on the bill. They remained gone over the weekend, leaving the Legislature one vote short of the number needed to take action.
"This thing is going to end badly for Scott Walker," Wineke predicted. "He underestimated the resolve of the public."
Meanwhile, Walker told Fox News he thought the senators would return to work early this week.
"Democracy means you show up and participate and they failed to do that," he said. "They're walking out on their job."
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Sunday that the senators weren't likely to come back until the governor was willing to compromise.
Erpenbach said he remained at a Chicago hotel and his colleagues were "scattered" out of state. They had a conference call Saturday night, and Erpenbach said they remained united in their effort to stall the bill.
"It's trying to slow this train down," he said. "It's making sure that obviously everybody in the state knows what we're dealing with here. It's an opportunity for the governor to calm down, take a step back, realize what he's asking for with this legislation and hopefully come to his senses."
Erpenbach said Democrats have reached out to Walker's administration but have not had their phone calls returned. He said it may take a coalition of moderate Republicans in the Senate to try to negotiate an end to the stalemate.
One of them, Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, has proposed suspending collective bargaining rights temporarily to get through the state's two-year budget, but then restoring them in 2013. That idea was endorsed Sunday by the Wisconsin State Journal, the state's second largest newspaper.
Erpenbach called Schultz brave for bucking Walker's administration with the proposal. Asked whether Democrats could accept Schultz's plan, Erpenbach said workers should not lose their rights since they have agreed to make concessions by paying more for their health care and pensions.
03/07/2011 5:01 PM EST
The Atlantic reports that at one town hall meeting in Wisconsin, one GOP state senator faced "loud opposition" to a proposed compromise.
03/04/2011 1:04 AM EST
Judge Orders Protesters Out Of Capitol
About 50 pro-union protesters peacefully left the state Capitol late Thursday after a judge ruled they could no longer spend the night to show their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to eliminate nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.
The judge also ruled the state had violated the public's free speech and assembly rights by restricting access to the building.
03/03/2011 5:00 PM EST
Layoff Notices To Come Friday
AP reports that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will issue layoff notices to 1,500 state employees Friday if his union bill doesn't pass by then:
Walker also said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is negotiating with Democrats who stymied passage of the bill by leaving the state for changes to the proposal that would get them to return. Walker said he won't compromise on the collective bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.
"I can't take any of that off the table," he said.
03/03/2011 11:16 AM EST
New Research Numbers
HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal writes:
A new survey released this morning by the Pew Research Center is the first to provide a clear before-and-after snapshot of national attitudes toward labor unions in the wake of the ongoing protests and budget conflict in Wisconsin:
The public’s overall views of labor unions have changed little through the lengthy stalemate between Wisconsin’s governor and the state’s public employee unions over collective bargaining rights. About half (47%) say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions compared with 39% who have an unfavorable opinion. In early February, 45% expressed a favorable opinion of unions and 41% said they had an unfavorable view. However, liberal Democrats and people in union households are more likely to say they have a very favorable opinion of labor unions than they were just weeks ago.
See the Pew Research report for their complete analysis and full results by party, ideology and union membership subgroups. The Pew Center had also conducted an in-depth survey on unions in early February, just before Walker released the budget bill that sparked the protests.
03/02/2011 6:42 PM EST
Man Cited For Unplugging Fox Equipment
The City of Madison has filed a police report charging a 23-year-old man for "disorderly conduct" after he unplugged extension cords from a Fox News vehicle. Read the full report here.
03/02/2011 6:00 PM EST
West Virginia Approves Pay Hikes For Public Workers
Adding another state into the debate on public workers, West Virginia's Herald-Dispatch reports:
West Virginia's public employees would reap pay raises averaging 2 percent this year, with a second year of increases promised to teachers and school workers, under a proposal advanced Wednesday to the state Senate by the House.
But the 78-22 vote reflected GOP-led concerns that increasing state spending threatens a stable budgetary picture that has so far allowed West Virginia to avoid deficits and the painful choices they can force. Foes also contrasted the pay hikes with the state's continuing unemployment woes.
Full story here.
03/02/2011 5:44 PM EST
Update: Ohio Bill Would Jail Striking Librarians
More details have surfaced on Ohio's controversial SB 5, which just passed the state senate.
Senate Bill 5 would prohibit public-employee unions representing teachers, librarians, toll collectors and others from bargaining over health benefits, pensions and working conditions. Under the bill, unions could still negotiate wages, but striking would be prohibited for all public workers, taking away a major bargaining chip. Workers could face a fine of up to $1,000, or 30 days in jail, if they go on strike.
A Twitter campaign, #standupOH, has already mounted. As user @escapetochengdu tweeted, "The bill that just passed Ohio Senate allows the government to jail striking librarians for 30 days. Despicable."
Read the whole Wall Street Journal story here.
03/02/2011 5:25 PM EST
Ohio Senate Passes Controversial Anti-Union Bill
The bill put forth by an Ohio panel earlier today has passed the state senate, TPM reports:
The Ohio State Senate just passed the controversial SB 5, aimed a limiting unionized state employees' ability to collectively bargain or go on strike.
In an indication of how divisive the legislation is in the Buckeye State, the final vote in the Senate was 17-16.
Gov. John Kasich (R) has endorsed the measure and is expected to sign it when it reaches his desk.
Full story here.
03/02/2011 5:18 PM EST
'Runaway Senator' Tourism Campaign Goes Viral
A tourism campaign leveraging the Wisconsin senators who fled to Rockford, Illinois has gone viral. The push, "Hide Away In Rockford," hawks "collectively bargained" rates to some of the town's best tourist attractions.
“Unlike Wisconsin’s state senators, this video isn’t low key; it’s been a real runaway hit," said Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB) President/CEO John Groh of the campaign's success.
Watch the promotional video here.
03/02/2011 4:48 PM EST
Polls: Polarized Wisconsin Leans Toward Unions
HuffPost's resident pollster Mark Blumenthal reports:
WASHINGTON -- A automated telephone poll conducted this week in Wisconsin by the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) largely confirms other recent polls showing public support for collective bargaining rights for unions and, by a narrow margin, more opposition than support for the agenda of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Some caution is in order, however, about several vote preference questions included in the same survey.
Despite the ongoing coverage and national interest in the controversy, all of the opinion surveys taken within Wisconsin so far have had sponsors with partisan ties, and each has taken a different approach to the questions asked. Where their questions have been similar, however, we can begin to compare the results.
Read more here.
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