Walker floats union compromise, but no deal yet
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Two of the 14 Senate Democrats who fled Wisconsin to block a vote on stripping most bargaining rights for public workers say Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed compromise isn’t enough to bring them back to the Capitol, although they’ll keep talking.
“I’m more than willing to continue to work through this if there is willingness on the other side,” Sen. Bob Jauch, one of the 14 AWOL Democrats, said Tuesday.
His Democratic colleague, Sen. Tim Cullen, said he considers “the lines of communication still open.”
According to e-mails released by Walker’s office, he proposed a compromise Sunday night that would allow public workers to bargain over their salaries with no limit — a change from his original plan that banned negotiated salary increases beyond inflation. He further softened his stance by agreeing to let collective bargaining to stay in place on mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay and classroom size for teachers.
Senate Republicans spent hours talking about the offer behind closed doors, and Democrats who helped broker the deal said that while it didn’t go far enough for them, it serves as a blueprint for further talks that could lead to a deal.
The plan shows a softened stance for Walker. His original plan would eliminate nearly all collective bargaining for state workers and force concessions amounting to an 8 percent pay cut on average.
The increased contributions for health insurance and pension, which would save the state $330 million by mid-2013, would remain. The unions and Democrats have agreed to those concessions to help balance a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
The e-mails show that Jauch had wanted even more items to be subject to bargaining that Walker seeks to eliminate, including sick leave and vacation pay.
Walker has repeatedly said that he would not budge on the key parts of the bill that’s been stymied in the Senate after Democrats left. Since then, the pressure to deal has increased as protests reached as large as 80,000 people, polls show the public want a compromise and recall efforts were launched against 16 senators, including eight Republicans.
Some of the items in Walker’s compromise plan could only be bargained if both sides agree to take them up. Workplace safety would be subjected to bargaining regardless.
Walker also proposed allowing collective bargaining agreements to last up to two years, instead of the one-year limit in his original proposal. Unions would only have to vote to remain in existence every three years, instead of annually as Walker initially proposed.
Additionally, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority employees would not lose all union bargaining rights and the Legislature’s budget committee would have to vote to approve any changes to Medicaid programs sought by Walker’s administration. Under the original bill, the Department of Health Services could make cuts and other changes to programs benefiting the poor, elderly and disabled without requiring a hearing or vote by the legislative committee.
The elimination of automatic union dues withdrawal from public workers’ pay would remain, as Walker originally proposed.
Senate Republicans spent hours going over the compromise plan Tuesday morning in a closed-door meeting, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said. He acknowledged that pressure was increasing on the senators, saying the recall efforts launched against eight Republicans was “on everybody’s minds.”
“Everybody’s obviously receiving a lot of pressure,” Fitzgerald said. “I had people on my front porch before I left this morning.”
He didn’t say whether Senate Republicans agreed with the concessions Walker proposed on Sunday said support for the underlying bill remained strong.
“We’re rock solid, we’re fine,” he said.
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