Wisconsin Protests Persist As Governor Refuses To Compromise
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker reasserted Monday that he sees no chance for a compromise over collective bargaining rights for state employees, pointing to the state’s $3.6 billion deficit as rationale for his rigidness.
“I know as a former local elected official at the county level that you can’t [balance the budget] unless you tackle collective bargaining,” Walker said in an interview with the Associated Press. “The rights remain; workers are still protected by the state. But collective bargaining is the key, otherwise the alternatives that I saw over the years at the local level are layoffs, and that’s just unacceptable.”
Walker’s firm stance on removing collective bargaining rights – or the method in which employees and employers negotiate the conditions of employment – marks the eighth day of massive labor protests across Wisconsin, which have seen as many as 100,000 demonstrators at the state’s capitol in Madison.
Walker’s proposed “public employee bill” would save Wisconsin $300 million over the next two years.
The controversy escalated after fourteen Senate Democrats left the state in protest of the public employee bill last week. Although Walker encouraged the return of the Democratic state senators Monday, he stated that the enormous budget deficit removed any chance for further negotiation.
The current statement in passing Walker’s public employee bill rests in the state senate’s voting procedure. Although the GOP holds a 19-14 majority in the Wisconsin senate, state law requires as quorum of 20 to vote on spending bills.
"Just because they don't want to participate, you can't shut down the people's work," said state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
Walker said that even with the protests, he maintains the backing of the state's voters.
“People expect leadership; they expect that you tell them truth,” Walker said. “In the case here, we’ve got a $3.6 billion deficit. We’ve been in a deficit; we’re broke.”
As it currently stands, the Wisconsin State Senate could temporarily take away bargaining rights to get through Wisconsin’s next two-year budget, then immediately restore them, according to Republican Sen. Dale Schultz.
However, Walker rejected Shultz’s plan in an interview with MSNBC on Monday, reasserting his established stance on squashing collective bargaining outright.
“For us to tackle [the deficit] we’re going to have to reign in government spending, not only at the state level but for local government,” Walker said. “When local governments see the size of the cuts they’re going to get, just like governors of New York, California and others across the county have done. The difference here in Wisconsin is that we’re going to give them the tools with this bill to balance their budgets.”
Walker told the AP that he did not expect the amount of national interest in the Wisconsin political process.
“I had no idea of about the amount of national attention,” Walker said. “The people who are here from Wisconsin they have the right to be heard. The people from other states, that’s a whole other matter.”
Wisconsin has grown into the epicenter of the nationwide fight over efforts to roll back pay, benefits and bargaining rights of government workers. Other states such as Ohio and Tennessee may be encouraged to challenge their established unions if Wisconsin’s anti-labor bill passes.
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