Streams

Wisconsin State Senators Skip Town To Delay Vote on Public Employee Bill

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WNYC
College student Heather Roberts joins protesters who filled the steps and grounds surrounding the State Capitol building on February 16, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Mark Hirsch/Getty)

Amid a veritable thunderstorm of union opposition to a bill proposed by Gov. Scott Walker, the 14 Democrats in the Wisconsin State Senate have gone off the grid in a ploy to avoid a vote on a Republican-backed budget plan that would strip most public employees of their collective-bargaining rights.

The Republican majority state senate cannot vote on the bill unless at least one Democrat is present, and state troopers have been sent out to find the runaways.

Meanwhile, for the second day in a row, most Wisconsin students did not have school, because so many of their teachers called in sick in order to protest at the capitol and lobby against the changes. Hundreds of teachers and their supporters actually slept under the marble rotunda last night in preparation. Approximately 20,000 were there today holding signs and singing chants.

The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel has outlined the proposed changes. Here's an excerpt:

It would require most public workers to pay half their pension costs - typically 5.8% of pay for state workers - and at least 12% of their health care costs. It applies to most state and local employees but does not apply to police, firefighters and state troopers, who would continue to bargain for their benefits.

Except for police, firefighters and troopers, raises would be limited to inflation unless a bigger increase was approved in a referendum. The non-law enforcement unions would lose their rights to bargain over anything but wages, would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks.

Gov. Walker maintains the cuts to worker benefits and union bargaining laws are necessary to balance the state's budget shortfall over the next two years and would save taxpayers nearly $330 million through mid-2013. Opponents contend the cuts are unduly harsh and want revisions to the budget plan.

The Democratic Senators left town in an effort to force Senate Republicans to continue negotiations on the bill. They were frustrated that public testimony in front of the Joint Finance Committee was cut off at 3 AM last night, when people still had more concerns to vent.

It's not the first time a state legislative minority has fled town in a desperate attempt to prevent a vote. Texas Democrats secretly escaped to Oklahoma in 2003, forcing Republicans to revisit a redistricting plan Democrats said would unfairly strip them of five seats in the U.S. Congress.

Watch: video of a protest at the Wisconsin state capitol on Tuesday.

Tags:

More in:

News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Comments [5]

tonyc

Where are the demonstrations in support of these people in wiscosin dont our teachers know they are next. as a retired teamster I called my local and asked if we were doing anything in support of our brothers and sisters in wisconsin and was told why whats going on in wisconsin by one of the officals there this is why republican and tea party conservatives can get thier agendas passed when they are in the majority because they stick to the party line while democrats and liberals splinter into a hundred little self seving groups. local unions and action groups needed to organize and give supporters of this platfom somewhere to show our support of the people of wisconsin and our oppistion to these short sighted policies that seve the purposes of only the very wealthy and thier republican toadies

Feb. 21 2011 09:50 AM

Rachel Maddow said it best last night with her show's first segment on this topic - http://on.msnbc.com/efGiu7 - at 7 minutes in she nails it. (sorry for the 15sec ad upfront)

Post Citizens United decision the only competitors to Karl Rove and the right wing flood of corporate money is the SEIU and AFSCME. If Wisconsin is successful here, the democratic party (the only opposition to the religious tyranny of the republican party) is done for.

This isn't about a state budget.
This isn't about pension and benefits.
This is about a nationwide (not local to WI or Ohio) power grab for a political and financial stronghold on the American Democratic Process.

This will have enormously broad repercussions if this is allowed to happen. HUGE!

The root of this problem is the Citizens United decision that was corrupted from the start by the criminal acts of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. (another topic all together, but related)

Sorry if I got ranty here... just watch the Maddow segment. It has me really freaked out that we are on the precipice of a real downward spiral of the core of American Democracy.

Feb. 18 2011 11:46 AM
JPG from New York, NY

This is some of the better reporting on this issue, but there are important details missing. First, Gov. Walker has claimed that public sector employees' pay and benefits must be brought into line with those in the private sector. However, his claim that they are overpaid is false, according to an independent study: http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/6759/

Second, his claim is that there is no money so there is nothing to negotiate, so he wants to strip the unions of their collective bargaining rights. This assumes that the only thing unions want is money. This ignores things like safe working conditions, due process, and resisting the casualization of labor. This continues the false claim that unions are an ill in society rather than a way for workers to establish what they consider fair working conditions rather than simply having a standard (usually the lowest possible) imposed on them. Walker clearly believes in imposition and does not support a democratic process in any form whatsoever.
This is not, primarily, an economic decision but an attack on organized labor generally.

This is why tens of thousands, including non-union workers and students, are protesting in Madison and tens of thousands more across WI.

Feb. 18 2011 10:00 AM
Marcello from Brooklyn

Finally!... Some signs of brain activity somewhere in the socially and intellectually anesthetized American people.
After having destroyed the federal budget and the economy at large from 2000 to 2008, the Republicans can now harvest the fruit of their hard work by slashing spending on most of us, but not before having extended, once again, tax cuts to their constituency: the wealthy minority of the country. First you destroy public finances and then use the devastation you left behind as "evidence" of the inevitability of your cuts, confident that nobody will have the brain to understand that if your school will have to close or your college tuition will double or if police presence on the street will be cut in half it will all be for a good cause: so that the tiny millionaires minority that already own the majority of the country's wealth will have a little more, while laughing at you and at your problems all the way to the bank.
Where is our Tahir Square?!!!....
WHERE IS OUR TAHIR SQUARE?!!!....

Feb. 18 2011 08:42 AM
john mann

Don't you know we are all supposed to work for 5.00 pr hour & pay 5.00 pr gallon for gas & 500.00 a month to heat our homes & 500.00 a month for insurance all out of that 5.00 pr hour & don't forget about taxes. why don't all the government officials cut their pay to $7.50 pr hour & no health ins. & see how well they do

Feb. 17 2011 06:29 PM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.

Sponsored

About It's A Free Country ®

Archive of It's A Free Country articles and posts. Visit the It's A Free Country Home Page for lots more.

Supported by

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public.  Learn more at revsonfoundation.org.

Feeds

Supported by