MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker on Friday ruled out a compromise proposed by a key union to retain collective bargaining rights in exchange for public workers accepting benefit cuts.
At a press conference, Walker said he could not consider the offer by the largest state workers union because it only covered some public employees and came late in the process.
Walker and other Republicans have been trying to pass a controversial bill that would end a half-century of collective bargaining for most public workers in Wisconsin.
State Senate Democrats said they would stay away for days or even weeks, while Republican efforts to pass the bill in the state Assembly also faced an obstacle.
The 14 state Senate Democrats were meeting Friday in Illinois, and had no timetable for returning, Sen. Jon Erpenbach said at midday.
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had earlier asked Walker, a fellow Republican, to send two state troopers to the home of Mark Miller, the top state Senate Democrat, and other holdouts.
The Wisconsin Constitution prohibits police from arresting legislators while they’re in session.
While the Senate was paralyzed, the Assembly met on Friday.
[…] Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca shouted from the floor after his microphone was shut off that Democrats plan to fight to the “bitter end” to stop the bill.
Republicans have 57 seats in the Assembly but 58 lawmakers must be present in order for them to take up the bill that all 38 Democrats are united against.
Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer is the Assembly’s lone independent and could be that 58th person Republicans need.
As many as 25,000 students, teachers and prison guards have turned out at the Capitol this week to protest, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the building’s hallways, sitting cross-legged across the floor and making it difficult to move from room to room. Some have brought along sleeping bags and stayed through the night. Union organizers expected yet more to gather Friday.
Hundreds of teachers have joined the protests by calling in sick, forcing school districts — including the state’s largest, Milwaukee Public Schools — to cancel classes.
One sign taped to a statue outside the Capitol compared the governor to former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down last week after weeks of mass protests against his three-decade rule. The sign read, “Impeach Scott Mubarak!”
Bill supporters have been much less visible, although an “I Stand With Scott Walker” rally was planned for Saturday.
Despite the groundswell of support, it seems Democrats are merely delaying the inevitable — Republicans say they have the votes to pass the bill — yet the protesters are undeterred.
In an interview with Milwaukee television station WTMJ, President Barack Obama compared Walker’s bill to “an assault on unions.”
Speaking on CBS’ “The Early Show” on Friday morning, Walker urged the Democrats to return to Madison and face the vote.
“The state senators who are hiding out down in Illinois should show up for work, have their say, have their vote, add their amendments, but in the end, we’ve got a $3.6 billion budget deficit we’ve got to balance.”
Senate rules and the state constitution say absent members can be compelled to appear, but it does not say how.
Sen. Tim Cullen said he and other Democrats planned to stage their boycott until Saturday to give the public more time to speak out against the bill.
Walker, who took office last month, called the boycott a “stunt.” He vowed not to concede.
Some Democrats elsewhere applauded the developments as a long-awaited sign that their party was fighting back against the Republican wave created by November’s midterm election.
Thursday’s events were reminiscent of a 2003 dispute in Texas, where Democrats twice fled the state to prevent adoption of a redistricting bill designed to give Republicans more seats in Congress. The bill passed a few months later.
The proposal marks a dramatic shift for Wisconsin, which passed a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959 and was the birthplace of the national union representing all non-federal public employees.
In addition to eliminating collective-bargaining rights, the legislation also would make public workers pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage — increases Walker calls “modest” compared with those in the private sector.