Patti Wenzel

Madison ignites as GOP strips collective bargaining rights

By - Mar 9th, 2011 06:55 pm
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The Wisconsin Senate ended public unions as the state has known them for 50 years last night, as a conference committee and GOP-dominated chamber took two quick votes to end non-wage collective bargaining, automatic deductions of union dues from paychecks and the institution of annual certification votes for unions.

Items such as state employee contributions to pensions and health insurance premiums, the refinancing of bonds to save $165 million and possibly 1,500 jobs, the no-bid sale of state power plants and the ability to make 35 political appointments within the Department of Administration were not included in the new bill.

All 19 GOP Senators were in attendance and read the committee recommendation which altered AB11 (passed by the Assembly on Feb. 26) and SB11(which has been held up due the Dems being in Illinois). The committee report was signed by Sens. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Michael Ellis (R-Neenah)  and Assembly Reps. Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) and Scott Suder (R-Abbottsford).

The committee went into session at 6:04 p.m. and adjourned by 6:07 p.m. Watch the committee activity here.

Within three minutes, the Senate convened with all 19 Republican members in attendance. No Democrats were in Madison, though Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) had jumped in his car and was attempting to return to the statehouse when the GOP leadership announced the committee meeting.

The new bill on collective bargaining was approved on an 18-1 voice vote, with only Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) voting no.  He had been wavering for the past few weeks on the full bill and released a statement explaining why he went against his party on this issue.

Sen. Dale Schultz was the lone dissenting vote among the Republicans.

“As someone who (h)as spent the better part of the last four weeks working toward and hoping for a compromise, this is a difficult night,” Schultz said. “”Where I come from ‘compromise’ isn’t a dirty word.”

He said his constituents had asked him for just two things concerning this issue – to listen and work with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and to preserve collective bargaining even as state workers are willing to make sacrifices on wages and benefits.

“Ultimately, I voted my conscience, which I feel reflects the core beliefs of the majority of voters who sent me here to represent them. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the days ahead, as we now need to join together to work through what promises to be a difficult budget.”

As soon as the bill was passed, it was messaged to the Assembly, where it will be presented on the floor today at 11 a.m.

Peter Neuenfeldt, President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, called the action of the Senate “despicable, extreme, anti‐democratic.”

“Tonight’s trampling of the democratic process in Wisconsin shows that Scott Walker and the Republicans have been lying throughout this entire process and we have been telling the truth – that NONE of the provisions that attacked workers’ rights had anything to do with the budget,” Neuenfeldt said.

Gov. Scott Walker, who had been on a tour of the state selling the original version of the budget repair bill, issued a short statement following the Senate’s passage of the committee bill.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Photo by Patti Wenzel

“The Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused,” Walker said. “In order to move the state forward, I applaud the Legislature’s action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government.  The action today will help ensure Wisconsin has a business climate that allows the private sector to create 250,000 new jobs.”

Sen. Fitzgerald’s statement following the vote was similarly upbeat. After lambasting the Democrats for tarnishing the very institution of the Wisconsin Senate, he explained why he took the action of moving to the committee.

“This afternoon, following a week and a half of line‐by‐line negotiation, Sen. Miller sent me a letter that offered three options: 1) keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 2) take our counter‐offer, which would keep collective bargaining as is with no changes, 3) or stop talking altogether.”

Fitzgerald said that letter made him realize he was dealing with someone who was stalling “indefinitely” and doesn’t have a plan or intention to return.

“His idea of compromise is ‘give me everything I want,’ and the only negotiating he’s doing is through the media. Enough is enough.”

But Mark Miller (D-Monona) vowed to fight on for Wisconsin workers.

“In thirty minutes, 18 State Senators undid fifty years of civil  rights in Wisconsin. Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten,” Miller said in a written release. “Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people.  We will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government.”

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller. Photo courtesy State of Wisconsin.

During the committee session, which also included Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), no amendments were allowed and discussion by Barca was cut off.  Miller was not present in person or via phone.

Barca demanded to be heard, first asking what was in the new bill being presented.  Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said there was nothing new in the bill, that it “was the same bill you debated for over 60 hours.”  He added that some things had been taken out and that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Bureau all assured him that the action being taken was legal and non-fiscal.

When Barca inquired what was missing from the bill and asked for a copy of the bill from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau representative, Fitzgerald denied his request.

Barca then declared the meeting to be in violation of the state’s open meeting rules, which require a minimum of 24-hours notice for a public meeting.  This meeting was noticed at approximately 4 p.m. State law allows for a 2-hour meeting notice if there is a special circumstance, typically understood to mean a natural disaster or national emergency.

While Barca spoke, Fitzgerald called over him for the committee vote. The measure passed  on a 4-0 voice vote to move the bill into the Senate.

Calls of “Shame” came from the public in the committee room, those gathered in the gallery of the Senate chamber, the rotunda and surrounding the Capitol.

Following the committee hearing, Barca took to the floor of the Rotunda and berated the GOP for their behavior.

Rep. Peter Barca trying to get the attention of the speaker during the committee meeting. Screen shot courtesy Wisconsin Eye

“The law is very clear and the Republican Attorney General (J.B. VanHollen) stated very clearly (in Aug. 2010) that you need to have good cause if you have less than 24-hours notice. And if there is any doubt of that, you should go with the 24 hour notice,” Barca said.  “I hope they will be called to the court to explain.”

“This is naked abuse of power,” Barca continued. “They are so eager to take away the right that people have enjoyed for 50 years, they’ve done it here again and clearly violated the law.”

Barca added the the Gov. Walker’s true colors are now on display and that a fraud has been perpetuated on the people of Wisconsin.

“There is no bonding in this bill and the Governor has said that was what was needed to save 1,500 jobs,” Barca said. “Now they have a non-fiscal bill that doesn’t accomplish the goals of the budget repair bill. This is outrageous and I hope the Attorney General will adhere to his position and call these people out.”

The State Assembly convenes at 11 a.m. today and will undoubtedly pass the bill with similar speed, and undoubtedly over the very vocal objections of Assembly Democrats. Walker is expected to sign the bill immediately. Meanwhile, unions all over the country are calling for a general strike, including the 45,000 member South Central Federation of Labor and the Madison Firefighters Union. Massive demonstrations are expected today in the state capitol.

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