Republican Wisconsin senators bypass Democrats in vote on collective bargaining
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 5:37 PM
Senate Republicans abruptly passed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's plan to sharply curtail collective-bargaining rights for public employees Wednesday night, using a legislative maneuver to approve the measure without 14 Democratic senators who fled the state in an effort to block it.
After stripping the bill of fiscal measures that require a 20-member quorum for action, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate passed the collective-bargaining measure. Analysts say the legislation would cripple most of the state's public employee unions.
On Thursday, the slimmed-down bill is expected to go to the GOP-run state Assembly, which has already passed another version of it.
The standoff in Wisconsin has gone on for three weeks, thrusting public employee unions into a deep crisis. States are grappling with record budget deficits, which some governors have tried to close by trimming what they call the generous benefits public employees receive.
The measure to curtail union power has been followed similarly in other states, including Indiana and Ohio.
The legislative maneuver used to pass the bill in Wisconsin was met with outrage by Democrats and their allies, who vowed that the governor and his fellow Republicans in the state Senate would pay with their jobs.
"The vote does nothing to create jobs, does nothing to strengthen our state, and shows finally and utterly that this was never about anything but raw political power," said Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. "We now put our total focus on recalling the eligible Republicans who voted for this bill. And we also begin counting the days remaining before Scott Walker is himself eligible for recall."
Walker appeared undaunted as he applauded the Senate's action. In a statement, he said the state could not afford to be paralyzed any longer by a controversy that had caused Democratic senators to flee for Illinois and brought tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol in Madison.
"Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused," Walker said. "In order to move the state forward, I applaud the legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government."
The bill would eliminate most collective-bargaining rights for public employees across Wisconsin. It also would prevent unions from collecting dues with payroll deductions and would not allow unions to require members to pay dues. Collective bargaining is negotiation between an employer and a group of employees to determine the conditions of employment.
Walker's measure would require state workers to pay more for their health-care coverage and pensions - something they had agreed to do.
Although Wisconsin's budget problems are modest compared with those of other states, Walker called the bill necessary to ensure the state's fiscal health.