Gov. Scott Walker not backing down on Wisconsin union fight
For Wisconsin Gov. Walker, as well as the thousands of protesters camped out at the state Capitol, the battle over public employee unions – particularly the right to bargain collectively – is fundamental, almost visceral.
Two weeks into the political fight of his life, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) shows no signs of backing down. Neither do the protesters camped out at the state Capitol in Madison.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
For both sides, the battle over public employee unions – particularly the right to bargain collectively – is fundamental, almost visceral.
Police officials estimated the crowd gathered Saturday to number 70,000-100,000 – large numbers, even for a liberal university town that saw some of the biggest protests against the Vietnam War.
"I've been around Madison for 50 years, and I have not seen anything like it so far," Madison Police Department spokesman Joel DeSpain told the Los Angeles Times. Pro-union sympathy demonstrations were held around the country as well.
As the stand-off continued, Gov. Walker said Sunday that the only alternative to his plan to cut public employee benefits and curtail collective bargaining rights for state workers would be lay-offs.
Majority Republicans in the Wisconsin state Assembly abruptly cut off debate and passed Walker’s bill shortly after midnight Friday morning. But Senate Democrats (also in the minority) are still holed up beyond state borders, denying Republicans the quorum necessary to pass the bill.
Walker threatens layoffs
“If we do not get these changes, and the Senate Democrats don’t come back, we’re going to be forced to make up the savings in layoffs and that to me is just unacceptable,” Walker said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday.
Walker says he’s trying to close a $3.6 billion budget gap for the next two years. That includes cutting $1 billion in payments to local governments as well as cutting the state contribution to workers’ health care benefits and pensions.
Union officials have agreed to that, but Walker doubts their sincerity.
“Over the past two weeks, even after they’ve made those promises, we’ve seen local union after local union rush to their school boards, their city councils … and rush through contracts that had no contribution to the pensions and no contribution to health care,” he said on Meet the Press. “In one case, in Janesville, they were actually pushing through a pay increase.”
So far, there’s no give on either side regarding collective bargaining. (Walker’s plan would limit collective bargaining to wages, but only up to the rate of inflation.)