Gov.-elect Walker urges no action on labor contracts (UPDATE)
By Scott Bauer
Madison — Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker urged Democrats on Monday not to convene a lame duck special session of the Legislature next month to approve public employee labor contracts.
Walker sent a letter to outgoing Democratic leaders of the Senate and Assembly as well as the incoming Republican leaders asking them not to act because there needs to be “maximum flexibility” to deal with a two-year budget shortfall expected to amount to as much as $3.3 billion.
Democrats have said they intend to approve the deals sometime in December, before Republicans take over Jan. 3. The incoming Republican leaders have sided with Walker, saying no action should be taken.
The contracts pending approval have not been publically released, but union leaders said the contracts include no pay increases and furlough days that amount to a 3 percent pay cut. The agreements are retroactive, covering the two-year period that ends June 30.
Walker and Republicans in charge of the Senate and Assembly who take over Jan. 3 will have to pass a new two-year budget next year that begins July 1. Walker has signaled he intends to seek deep concessions from the roughly 40,000 unionized state workers, including increasing their pension and health care contributions, eliminating public sector jobs and ordering more unpaid furlough days.
Walker hasn’t disclosed exactly what cuts he will seek, and he likely won’t do that until he releases his budget plan, likely in February.
According to Walker’s letter, passing the retroactive union contracts covering the current two-year budget likely will necessitate “more aggressive spending cuts” once he takes office.
Even if the pending deals are approved, it will be up to Walker’s administration to negotiate with the unions on the next two-year contract that begins July 1.
Marty Beil, the executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, which represents 22,000 state workers, did not return telephone or e-mail messages Monday seeking comment.
Walker addressed his letter Monday to outgoing Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, and Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville. Both Sheridan and Decker lost in the November elections, which resulted in Republicans gaining majority control in both houses of the Legislature.
Sheridan’s spokeswoman had no comment on the letter. Decker was not immediately available for comment.
Walker also sent the letter to the incoming Republican leaders, Speaker-elect Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, and Majority Leader-elect Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.
As of Nov. 19, nine out of 19 labor unions and outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration had reached tentative agreements on the contracts covering thousands of state workers. A spokeswoman for Doyle’s administration tracking approval of the contracts did not immediately respond to messages seeking an update Monday on approval of the agreements.
The deals still must be ratified by the unions and approved by a special legislative committee before going before the Senate and Assembly.
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.
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