Democrats push to pass state worker contracts
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democrats are trying to approve state labor union contracts in a lame duck session before Republicans take over the Legislature in January.
Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker has asked that the process stop until he takes over on Jan. 3 because the deals could make his job of balancing the state budget more difficult.
Nine labor unions and outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration have reached tentative agreements on the contracts covering thousands of state workers. The deals still must be ratified by the unions and approved by a special legislative committee before they go before the Senate and Assembly.
One union, the Service Employees International Union, has ratified the agreement, according to the state Department of Administration. Ten other bargaining units, including the largest the 23,000-member Wisconsin State Employees Union, are still negotiating.
State workers haven’t had a contract since July 1, 2009. The period covered by the new retroactive agreements ends on June 30.
The deals haven’t been publicly released but union leaders say they include no pay increases and furlough days that equate to a 3 percent pay cut.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor-elect would have no further comment on the contracts until he has a chance to review them.
Democratic leaders in both the Senate and Assembly say they intend to come back in December to vote on the contracts.
“We plan to make every effort to get this done,” said Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, a Democrat who lost his re-election bid.
State Rep. Thomas Nelson, who currently serves as majority leader but ran for lieutenant governor instead of another term in the Assembly, said it was Democrats’ responsibility to take care of unfinished business.
“I think there is a misperception that that we are somehow stepping on toes — we aren’t,” he said. “It’s a matter of fairness to the workers to do right by them.”
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, who lost his re-election bid, said they are trying to find a date in mid-December to come back.
Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said it was difficult to take a position on the contracts since he doesn’t know what is in them.
“But any time Jim Doyle wants to do something quickly without much review, I get nervous,” he said.
Democrats currently control the Assembly 49-45 with two independents and three vacancies. Democrats have an 18-15 majority in the Senate. In January Republicans will hold a 60-38-1 majority in the Assembly and 19-14 in the Senate.
At least 58 members of the Assembly would have to be present to take up the contracts and at least 30 would have to vote yes. In the Senate, at least 20 members would have to be there and 11 would have to approve the deal.
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