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Monday, February 21, 2011

Wisconsin - Crowds Continue to Swarm Capital, Governor Showing No Signs of Backing Down VIDEO COVERAGE

Unions Unfairly Blamed in Wisconsin?

February 21, 2011
BY CHRISTINA HARTMAN
ANCHOR: CHRISTINA HARTMAN

You're watching multisource politics news analysis from Newsy

It’s a showdown critics are billing an all-out political war on unions. Crowds continue to swarm Wisconsin’s capital -- where the state’s governor is showing no signs of backing down over public sector union benefits. (Video from KOVR)

Still at large - 14 Democratic state lawmakers who fled the state last week in protest over Governor Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill. Walker’s proposal -- strips public sector unions of some collective bargaining rights -- and ups state workers’ pension and health insurance contributions.

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12K State Workers Could Be Fired Without Budget Deal, Wisconsin Governor Warns

February 20, 2011
FoxNews.com

If changes aren't made to the benefit contributions paid by Wisconsin's nearly 300,000 public sector employees, about 10,000-12,000 workers will lose their jobs, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker warned Sunday.
The Republican governor has been targeted by protesters for nearly a week for negotiating a bill now in the state Senate that would require workers to increase their contributions to pensions and health care coverage, would limit collective bargaining rules and tie raises to inflation.  
But Walker said while the state enjoys a lower-than-average unemployment rate -- about 7.5 percent compared to 9 percent nationally -- about 5,000-6,000 state workers and 5,000-6,000 local government workers could lose their jobs if they don't accept changes to their benefits plan.
"I don't want a single person laid off in the public nor in the private sector and that's why this is a much better alternative than losing jobs," Walker told "Fox News Sunday."
The budget vote was supposed to take place last week, but was delayed when state Senate Democrats fled to Illinois to avoid having to vote on the plan, which would cost public sector employees about $300 million over two years, or less than 10 percent of the deficit total. 

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Sat. Feb. 19, 2011.   Protesters gather down State Street in Madison, Wis., after a rally outside the Wisconsin State Capitol. A few dozen police officers stood between supporters of GOP Gov. Scott Walker on the muddy east lawn of the Capitol and the much larger group of pro-labor demonstrators who surrounded them.
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Opposing sides meet as Capitol protests enter sixth day

DEE J. HALL, MARY SPICUZZA and CLAY BARBOUR 
Wisconsin State Journal
Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tens of thousands of people are descending on the state Capitol Saturday for the sixth day of protests targeting a controversial budget repair bill that effectively strips public workers of their collective bargaining rights.
Some 40,000 protesters — including the Rev. Jesse Jackson — showed up Friday to help cheer on Democratic lawmakers who successfully delayed action on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bill by leaving the state and depriving the Senate of a quorum.
Officials expect Saturday's crowd to be even bigger and bring a new dynamic: opposing sides. Union protesters have largely had the Capitol to themselves for the week. But a counter-protest has been organized for Saturday involving pro-Walker and Tea Party supporters.
The union protests got under way at 10:30, and the pro-Walker group starts at noon.
Reaction to the bill, proposed eight days ago, has been intense and has built throughout the week, with bigger protests each day.
On Friday, Walker announced he was pushing back the release of the state's two-year budget, and his budget address, by a week. It was supposed to be delivered Tuesday. The short-term budget repair bill, aimed at getting through this fiscal year, also includes cuts in public employee benefits.
The Legislature may be at a stalemate for now — Democratic senators haven't returned from Illinois since fleeing Wisconsin on Thursday, and the Assembly adjourned after a brief but heated session Friday. — but major union officials came forward Friday to offer concessions.
Union leaders offer concessions
Top leaders of two of Wisconsin's largest public employee unions announced they are willing to accept the financial concessions called for in Walker's plan, but will not accept the loss of collective bargaining rights.
Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, and Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24, said in a conference call with reporters that workers will do their fair share to narrow Wisconsin's budget gap.
Walker's plan calls for nearly all state, local and school employees to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care premiums. That would save $30 million by June 30 and $300 million over the next two years, the governor has said.
The measure also would prohibit most unionized public employees, except local police and fire fighters and the State Patrol, from bargaining on issues besides wages. Wage hikes could be negotiated only if they don't exceed the consumer price index.
"We want to say loud and clear — it is not about those concessions," Bell said. "For my members, it's about retaining a voice in their professions."
The two insisted their positions have not changed and Friday's call was intended to clarify their opposition to Walker's proposal. Bell, who represents 98,000 educators, and Beil, whose council includes 60,000 members, repeated calls for Walker to sit down with them.
Senate Democrats also reached out to Walker, sending him a letter urging him to remove the bargaining provisions from his bill.
But Walker repeated that he would not back down.

READ MORE

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Wisconsin persists on cuts, protests swell

By Jeff Mayers Jeff Mayers Fri Feb 18

MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) – Wisconsin's Republican governor vowed on Friday to press ahead with legislation to curb the union bargaining rights of public employees as part of a deficit-cutting plan even as protests against the measure swelled.
Speaking at a news conference on the fifth consecutive day of demonstrations against the proposal, Governor Scott Walker said the state is broke and cannot pay its bills unless the plan is approved.
"I told the voters what I would do to get Wisconsin working again," Walker said of his election in 2010. "We are going to do what it takes to get this budget on track."
Republicans have majorities in both the state Senate and the Assembly. In a bid to scuttle the proposal, Senate Democrats fled the state on Thursday and Friday to deprive the Senate of the needed quorum for a vote.
The lawmakers apparently left the state because they were concerned that they would be compelled to return to the Capitol by police if they stayed in Wisconsin.

Republicans have a quorum in the state Assembly and could pass the plan there over the weekend.
Police estimated that 35,000 protesters converged on the Capitol grounds in Madison on Friday, with another 5,000 demonstrators packed inside the building itself, said Carla Vigue, a spokeswoman with the Wisconsin Department of Administration.
On Thursday, a crowd estimated at 30,000 people protested inside and outside the Capitol building.
The protests have so far been peaceful and police said there were no incidents or arrests on Friday.
TEA PARTY
But the potential for confrontation emerged when the conservative Tea Party movement, which supports deep budget cuts, announced that it would hold a rally supporting the Republicans at the Capitol on Saturday.
Drew Ryun, the president of American Majority Action, one of the conservative groups planning Saturday's demonstration, said organizers were "meeting fire with fire."
"We have buses coming in from all over the state," Ryun said. "We see this as the opening salvo of the 2012 election season. The Tea Party movement facing off against the unions. And we like the odds."
Wisconsin is the flashpoint for a national struggle over efforts to roll back pay and union rights of state and local government workers. If the majority Republicans in Wisconsin prevail, other states could be emboldened to take on powerful public employee unions.
The Milwaukee Public School system, which serves 85,000 students in the state's largest city, canceled all classes on Friday after nearly 630 unionized teachers called in sick.
"Every day the crowds are bigger," said Jay Heck, the executive of Common Cause Wisconsin, a non-partisan advocacy group based in Madison, said of the union protests.
President Barack Obama sided with the demonstrators on Thursday, calling the governor's proposal an "assault on unions." U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner criticized Obama and said he backed fellow Republican Walker.
Walker's administration puts the deficit for the remainder of the current fiscal year at $137 million and for the next two fiscal years under its biannual budget at $3.3 billion.
Republicans want state workers to increase contributions to pensions to 5.8 percent of salary, and double contributions to health insurance premiums to 12.6 percent.
They also want to limit collective bargaining to the issue of wages, and cap increases to the rate of inflation, with a voter referendum needed for bigger increases.
Walker said the alternative is to layoff more than 10,000 workers.
Walker was to unveil his state budget proposal for the next two fiscal years on February 22, but on Friday his office said that speech would be put off until March 1.
U.S. state and local governments are struggling to balance budgets after the recession decimated their finances. Some states such as Wisconsin, Texas, Arizona and Ohio are relying mainly on cuts in spending to balance the books. Others such as Minnesota and Illinois are raising taxes.


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Other governors facing similar budget crises are watching Wisconsin carefully.
More than 40 states are facing a combined projected shortfall of $125 billion for the fiscal year of 2012. The hardest hit are California, facing a $25.5 billion gap, Texas at $13 billion, Illinois at $15 billion, New York at $9 billion and New Jersey at $10.5 billion.

Unions under fire as states try to curtail benefits

States look to bust unions to curtail benefitsPublic employees protest Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to limit collective bargaining and require higher benefit contributions.

By Tami Luhby, senior writer



NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Lots of state officials are pressing public employees to shoulder more of their health care and pension costs.
But in some places -- notably Wisconsin and Ohio -- officials are looking to go one step farther. Governors and lawmakers there are trying to limit or end public workers' collective bargaining ability, effectively neutering the unions.
Thousands of Wisconsin's public employees have descended on Madison to protest Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to raise their benefit contributions and limit their collective bargaining ability.
Protests have also erupted in Columbus, Ohio as a bill proposing to eliminate collective bargaining for state workers and public university employees makes its way through the state legislature.
Both states are seeking the flexibility to change employee benefits, and they're not alone.
Health care and pension costs are soaring, making it even harder for public officials nationwide to close massive budget gaps. Forty-four states and Washington, D.C. are facing a total shortfall of $125 billion for fiscal 2012, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In many places, public officials have little leverage to lower these costs because they are set in union contracts. If benefits were removed from the collective bargaining process, states and localities could change them without having to negotiate with the unions, a process that can drag on for months or even years.
"It gives state and local officials more control over the costs of employing government workers," said James Sherk, senior policy analyst in labor economics at The Heritage Institute, a conservative think tank.
Many state and local governments have been leaning on their employees as they look to cut costs and balance their budgets during the Great Recession. Workers, to varying degrees, have made concessions -- taking furloughs or pay freezes and upping their contributions to their health care and retirement benefits.
State officials have long floated so-called right-to-work proposals that would curtail or eliminate union power. But this year, they are getting more traction because Republicans -- who are generally not big fans of unions -- have gained control of more state capitols and governor's mansions.
For instance, a bill that would end collective bargaining for teachers is currently working its way through the legislature in Tennessee, where Republicans captured the governor's office and took a commanding lead in the house.
And in Indiana, which banned collective bargaining on the state level in 2005, lawmakers are considering a bill to curtail the power of teachers' unions, which are at the local level.
Gov. Walker's controversial proposal
Under Wisconsin Gov. Walker's plan, many state and local workers would pay about 5.8% toward their pension and about 12% of their healthcare benefits. They currently pay little toward their retirement benefits about about 6% of their medical premiums, Walker said.
Walker says these changes would help the state save $30 million in the last three months of the current fiscal year. Wisconsin is facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit for the biennium that starts on July 1, according to the state's Department of Administration.
Even more controversial, Walker is looking to limit collective bargaining for most public employees to wages only. Local law enforcement and fire employees, as well as state troopers and inspectors would be exempt.
That means health care and pension contributions would no longer be subject to contract negotiations, giving state officials greater freedom to raise them.
A bill in Ohio, meanwhile, would not only eliminate collective bargaining but would also make fewer police and firefighters eligible to participate in unions.
Additionally, the Ohio bill would make all public workers pay at least 20% of their health insurance premiums and would eliminate tenure as a consideration when making layoffs. And it would require pay be based on merit for most workers.
Ohio is facing an $8 billion budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. Gov. John Kasich supports the bill as a way to help stabilize the budgets of the state and localities.
"We need to give our cities, towns and school districts the tools to combat one of their biggest costs -- the cost of labor," said Rob Nichols, his press secretary.
Thousands of teachers and public employees have flocked to Columbus to protest the bill.
"Students need their teachers to focus on them and their classrooms, and allowing the union to represent teachers allows them to do what they do best -- teach," said Philip Hayes, a teacher in Columbus and member of the Ohio Education Association, which sent nearly a thousand school workers to a rally on Thursday.
Concessions from public workers
Given state budget woes, workers' pay and benefits are "an obvious place" to cut back, Sherk said. If employees don't make concessions, state officials will have to cut elsewhere to balance the budget.
"It means there are less tax dollars to fund government services," he said.
But union leaders say that public employees have been giving plenty throughout the recession. Many states have effectively cut pay by instituting furloughs and workers have been contributing more to their benefits.
In California, for instance, workers agreed last year to contribute 10% of their pay to their pensions, up from 5%, said Steven Kreisberg, director of collective bargaining for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Ohio public employees made $250 million in concessions in 2008, including an increase in their health care contributions.
"Public employees, through their unions, are making sacrifices," Kreisberg said. "Any argument that workers are not willing to make concessions is clearly not demonstrated by the facts."

 
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Wis. governor: GOP won't be 'bullied' by union bill protesters

By Jordan Fabian - 02/18/11thehill.com

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) says his party has been emboldened by massive protests against his controversial budget plan.

Walker said demonstrators who filled the state Capitol building in Madison and the boycott by state Senate Democrats — some of whom fled the state in protest — have steeled the resolve of members of his party.

"If anything, I think it's made the Republicans in the Assembly and the Senate stronger," he told Fox News's Greta Van Susteren in an interview Thursday night. "They're not going to be bullied. They're not going to be intimidated."

The unrest in Wisconsin has attracted attention from national lawmakers and political figures, who have incorporated the state's tussle over Walker's budget proposal into the debate over the federal government's fiscal woes.

Public-sector workers are upset with the plan, which calls on them to pay to receive pension and health benefits and removes collective bargaining rights for some.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement backing Walker's proposal, saying, governors like Walker "are daring to speak the truth about the dire fiscal challenges Americans face at all levels of government, and daring to commit themselves to solutions that will liberate our economy and help put our citizens on a path to prosperity."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, meanwhile, has called the plan an "assault" on the middle class and compared Walker's plan to drastic cuts House Republicans in Washington, D.C., want to make.
"This federal budget madness echoes pound-foolish actions we're seeing in state after state, where Republican legislators and governors elected with lucrative CEO support are ignoring the jobs crisis and playing politics as usual with the lives of working families," he wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed.
Wisconsin Democrats in Congress have called for the plan to be taken off the table. President Obama on Thursday weighed in, also accusing Walker of waging an "assault" on unions.

Walker's words are his latest attempt to goad state Democrats back to the capital to vote on his plan. He held a press conference on Thursday afternoon, urging them to return to the state after some fled to neighboring Illinois in order to avoid state law enforcement from bringing them back to Madison.
Asked if he has the authority to retrieve them out-of-state, Walker said, "That's a really big question for us." READ MORE

Wisconsin State Senator Mark Miller Calls Governor Scott Walker's Budget Tactics 'Insulting,' Asks for 'Respect'

February 18, 2011 abcnews.com

hat was the message the Wisconsin state Senate minority leader wanted to send to Gov. Scott Walker after he and 13 fellow Democratic senators fled the state in order to avoid a budget vote that would take away state employee’s bargaining rights and increase health care costs and contributions to pensions.
“The workers of Wisconsin have always been willing to work with the governor when we face a crisis whether it is a national disaster or a fiscal crisis. They did it the last session, they took furloughs equivalent to a 3% pay cut, they will do it again,” Sen. Mark Miller said on “GMA.” “The really insulting thing is the governor never, ever asked them. He just introduced this law last week Friday and expected to be passed yesterday, unacceptable. It is not the way we do things in Wisconsin, it is not the American way.”
Wisconsin is trying to overcome a $137 million budget shortfall which would turn into a $3.6 billion problem over the next two years.
The governor has called on the senators to return to Madison to do the job they were elected to do. But Miller – who spoke from an undisclosed location out of the reach of the Wisconsin state patrol – said the budget crisis is entirely of Walker’s “own making.”
“We had a much bigger deficit at the end of the Bush recession that hit our state and every state like a thunderclap. It was a $6.6 billion deficit and we solved that deficit and employees stepped up,” Miller told me.
READ MORE

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Madison — Amid the third straight day of chaotic but largely peaceful protests at the Capitol, Democratic senators Thursday boycotted a Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair plan, forcing Republicans to put off further action in that house until Friday at the earliest.
With Democrats hiding out just over the Illinois border and drawing national media attention, Republicans had too few lawmakers to take a vote Thursday and had to adjourn. With thousands of demonstrators swarming the Capitol Square, GOP lawmakers vowed to come back Friday morning to try to take up the proposal, which would help solve a state budget shortfall by cutting public employee benefits and would also take away most public union bargaining rights.
Democrats holed up in the Clock Tower Resort and Conference Center in Rockford, Ill., while Republicans said they wanted law enforcement to bring them to the Capitol if they were still in Wisconsin. Walker called for Democrats to call off their "stunt" and "show up and do the job they're paid to do."
"It's either a matter of making reductions and making modest requests of our government employees or making massive layoffs at a time when we don't need anyone else laid off," Walker said.
Walker said he had received more than 8,000 e-mails on the issue, with the majority of them backing his stance.
Democrats and union leaders said their concerns were focused on losing decades-old bargaining rights, not the financial concessions. In a telephone interview from an undisclosed location, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) said he was upholding the rights of workers by allowing for more debate on the bill.

Lack of quorum

The Senate convened at 11:30 a.m., with 17 Republicans but no Democrats present. After a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, action immediately was disrupted by demonstrators in the gallery shouting, "Freedom, democracy, unions." One of the two missing Republicans arrived shortly afterward and an aide to the 19th, Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), said his boss was unable to make it to the Senate through the demonstrators.
Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) made a call of the house to bring the additional senators needed to vote on the bill to the Senate floor.
Walker and Scott Fitzgerald have said they were confident that the GOP lawmakers had the votes they needed to pass the bill without further changes. Walker said Thursday that the proposal's cuts to worker benefits and union bargaining laws are financially necessary and that he wouldn't accept changes that compromised the saving he's seeking.
The state has a $137 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 30 and a more than $3 billion shortfall over the next two years. The cuts to benefits would save taxpayers nearly $330 million through mid-2013.
Republicans control the Senate, 19-14, meaning they can lose only two votes and still pass the bill if all Democrats oppose it. Some Republicans have shown reluctance about the bill, though so far none have said publicly that they will vote against it.
Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) said he was uncomfortable about the bill's effects on workers but also concerned about the other alternatives to fix the budget.
"I will probably vote for it" on the Senate floor, Olsen said.
Top GOP leaders in the Legislature have said they expect the bill to pass both houses with the changes adopted by the Joint Finance Committee late Wednesday on a party-line vote. Some GOP senators attempted to make changes to the bill Wednesday that would go further than the Joint Finance Committee changes but had no success.
The biggest change approved by the Joint Finance Committee would require local governments that don't have a civil-service system to create one to address grievances for employee termination, employee discipline and workplace safety.
The committee left major elements of the bill in place. It would require most public workers to pay half their pension costs - typically 5.8% of pay for state workers - and at least 12% of their health care costs. It applies to most state and local employees but does not apply to police, firefighters and state troopers, who would continue to bargain for their benefits.
Except for police, firefighters and troopers, raises would be limited to inflation unless a bigger increase was approved in a referendum. The non-law enforcement unions would lose their rights to bargain over anything but wages, would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks.

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