Is Gov. Scott Walker's offer enough for a deal with rogue 'Wisconsin 14'?

Governor Walker has released emails with some of the absentee 'Wisconsin 14' that show he's willing to compromise – on some issues, to some extent.

Andy Manis / AP / File
In this Feb. 19 file photo, Neporsha Hamlin, center, of Madison, Wisc., protests the governor's budget bill at the State Capitol in Madison. After three weeks of a standoff, has Gov. Scott Walker made an offer inviting enough to lead to a deal with the 'Wisconsin 14' – the absentee state senators?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has said for weeks that he’s not willing to budge on the parts of his budget bill that would strip most Badger State public unions of their collective bargaining power. But now it turns out that’s not entirely true – he is willing to compromise, after all. Is he giving up enough so that Wisconsin’s union standoff can be settled via a deal?

Let’s examine possible answers to that question by going to the emails (pdf).

First, a little background. On Tuesday, Governor Walker released to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel a chain of emails that show he’s offered to dial back a bit on his anti-union efforts. The emails were sent to some of the “Wisconsin 14” – the Democratic state senators who have fled to Illinois to block a vote on this whole thing.

Among key changes, Walker’s offer would allow public unions to bargain over salaries with no dollar limit. In his budget bill, he had banned negotiations over anything but increases that keep up with inflation.

Walker also says that he’d let unions continue to bargain over mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay, and classroom size for teachers, among other things.

Only one of the Wisconsin 14 has to return for the state Senate to muster a quorum and return to work. And several of the rogue Democrats say that Walker's offer is enough to keep them talking – though it’s not enough yet to get them to give up the dubious comfort of a hotel bed in Illinois.

“I’m more than willing to continue to work through this if there is willingness on the other side,” said Democratic state Sen. Bob Jauch.

There are several obvious points to make here. First, now that the details of a possible compromise are public, the pressure on both sides to reach a deal will ratchet up. Some Wisconsin Democrats are worried that they increasingly look like a party that’s standing in the way of the democratic process. Some Wisconsin Republicans are worried that they increasingly look like a party bent on destroying unions at all costs.

So if a deal is to be made, Walker’s offer likely will likely be the draft from which it is derived.

But, second, Walker remains adamant about items that unions consider anathema. It’s not just that he would still strip them of the ability to bargain over health and pension costs. Unions have agreed they have to pay more for these benefits. It’s also that the budget bill still hits at union dues.

Under current Wisconsin law, public workers who don’t join unions must make “fair share” payments in lieu of dues. Unions argue that these workers benefit from union-negotiated contracts. The state automatically withdraws these payments, like union dues, directly from worker paychecks.

Walker’s budget bill would end these practices. Unions say Walker is trying to weaken them profoundly, and perhaps they’re right. Some Republicans argue that efforts several states to curb aspects of union collective bargaining are an attempt to end the cozy relationship between union leaders and Democratic politicians eager to give them what they want.

“The crux of it is that there’s been an imbalance, if you will, in terms of power,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia in an interview Tuesday on CNBC.

The problem for Republicans is that national polls show that by a margin of 2 to 1, voters disapprove of efforts to curb public union collective rights in general.

Will Walker give up more to get a deal? Will one Wisconsin senate Democrat, tired of hotel breakfast bars, cave and return home? One thing is sure: the literal cost to Democrats of staying away has gone up. On Wednesday, state Senate Republicans approved without discussion fines of $100 per day per senator for each missed day of work.

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