Morning State Budget News: State Senate votes strictly on collective bargaining measure, passes 18-1Wisconsin News
Wisconsin senators voted last night to strip most state-and-local public union workers of their collective bargaining privileges.
MADISON - Wisconsin senators voted last night to strip most state and local public union workers of their collective bargaining privileges.
After meeting behind closed doors most of the day, majority Republicans took out financial provisions from the bill – thus getting around the need to have at least one Democrat on hand for a vote. So while the 14 Democrats continued their three-week exile, the rest voted 18-1 to pass their amended bill. Dale Schultz of Richland Center cast the only no vote, saying that collective bargaining should remain intact because it preserves labor peace. And Schultz said compromise is “not a dirty word.”
But Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the people elected the GOP senators to do a job and quote, “stand up to the broken status quo.”
The bill now goes to the Assembly late this morning for final passage. Within 90 minutes of the Senate vote, thousands of protestors stormed into the Capitol banging drums and screaming “The whole world is watching!” The crowd grew to an estimated7,000. By midnight, most were gone. But dozens stayed in the Capitol hallways overnight, and officials said they would not force them to leave.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker met for a half hour with the GOP senators in their private session before the vote. They agreed to form a new committee to take out just enough fiscal provisions to allow the vote. Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca screamed “This is a violation of law!” But Fitzgerald ignored him and called for the committee vote. The full Senate rammed it through a short time later without debate. Walker said Democrats had three weeks to come home and debate the bill, and they didn’t.
The Wisconsin Senate’s Democratic leader says there’s nothing his caucus can do to stop the public union restrictions. So Mark Miller (D-Monona) says his party will now focus on supporting the recalls of Republican senators, so Democrats can win back the majority they lost last November. State-and-national groups have started petition drives to force recall elections against eight GOP senators and six Democrats. Every senator who’s eligible to be recalled has been targeted. Democrats need to gain three seats to take back the Senate. Miller said he didn’t think people knew what they were getting when they voted last fall so quote, “There will be a do-over.” Miller said there was a “distinct possibility” that Democrats would prevail. He also said the fight over collective bargaining would most likely continue in the courts. The 14 Senate Democrats have stayed away from the Capitol since February 17th to protest the removal of union rights. Some Democrats said they would return after the Assembly votes on the package – but Miller says it won’t be today. Democrat Bob Jauch of Poplar called the sudden Republican vote on the union bill “political thuggery” and said it could end the careers of at least some GOP senators. Milwaukee Democrat Chris Larson said he tried to drive back from Illinois for the vote, but he was too late. In his words, “If they decide to kill the middle class, it’s on them.”
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-JUneau) insists that last night’s sudden vote to pass the union bargaining restrictions was legal. But media attorney Bob Dreps and former state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager both say the GOP did not provide enough public notice. And Lautenschlager – who represents a large state employee union – said both the State Justice Department and the Dane County district attorney should easily find enough evidence to show that the vote on the bill broke the state Open Meetings Law. The law requires a 24-hour notice of public meetings, but only two hours in an emergency. And Fitzgerald said he posted a conference committee notice two hours before the panel met to remove financial portions of the budget repair bill. That allowed the 19 Republican senators to vote without needing the 20 required to act on fiscal bills. GOP senators passed the union restrictions 18-1, with Dale Schultz calling for a continuation of collective bargaining. Most of that bargaining would be gutted under the bill. State union workers would have to pay more toward their pensions and health insurance. And police and fire unions would be exempt. The Assembly is scheduled to ratify the Senate’s changes today, but Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca says there’s no way the senators’ actions can legally stand. An estimated seven-thousand protestors gathered at the Capitol after the Senate vote. And many signed petitions that could be used to challenge the meetings’ legality.
Wisconsin’s public school teachers are being urged by their union leader to be in class today, and not join the throngs of protestors expected at the Capitol. Mary Bell of WEAC accused Senate Republicans last night of making an “extreme power grab” when they passed the bill which virtually ends state-and-local public union bargaining powers. Dozens of Wisconsin schools were closed from one-to-four days last month while their teachers called in sick to protest the bill. And students and teachers in a number of other districts held brief walk-outs during the school day. Bell says the teachers have quote, “won the battle in the court of opinion – and this isn’t over.” The Madison teachers union also told his members to go to school today. In a statement, the union called the Senate’s action “improper and illegal,” and promised it would be challenged in court.
Meanwhile, local teacher unions are scrambling to have their contracts extended by a year-or-two, because the new bargaining restrictions would not begin until current contracts expire. Christina Brey of WEAC says many local unions are going along with the higher contributions for pensions and health insurance that Governor Scott Walker is pushing. But without the contract extensions, she said teachers would be left “without a voice.” And she said they need their bargaining rights to continue for awhile to maintain a sense of “order and security.” The Wisconsin Association of School Boards says up to 100 districts statewide have approved quick extensions.
Wisconsin labor unions are planning protest rallies throughout the state this morning. That’s after the Senate’s sudden vote last night to eliminate virtually all collective bargaining powers for most public employee unions. An event called the “Madison Morning Rally” will begin at nine on a corner of the Capitol Square. The heads of the State AFL-CIO, the state’s largest teachers’ union, and the state fire-fighters association are among those scheduled to speak. Police-and-fire unions are exempt from the new bargaining restrictions. But the heads of the statewide police and fire associations say it’s wrong for other public workers to sacrifice while their members don’t have to. Union organizers have called nine a-m rallies for a number of places in Wisconsin, including the district office of Senate GOP president Mike Ellis in Neenah. Other events are planned in Milwaukee, Racine, Green Bay, Eau Claire, River Falls, Juneau, Fond du Lac, Platteville, Oshkosh, and La Crosse. There’s also a rally planned in Richland Center, even though the senator from that community – Dale Schultz – voted against the bill last night. Schultz said bargaining assures labor peace, and the concept of compromise has fallen out of favor.