MADISON, Wis. (CBS/WBBM) — A showdown in underway in Wisconsin, as the state Legislature is expected to vote on a bill to strip government workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights as a way to save the state money.
As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Bernie Tafoya reports, school districts around Wisconsin canceled classes Thursday, as teachers prepared spend another day at the state Capitol protesting the bill.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bernie Tafoya reports
The proposal from Republican Gov. Scott Walker has drawn thousands of teachers, students and other demonstrators to the Capitol in protest. The nation’s most aggressive anti-union proposal has been speeding through the state Legislature since Walker introduced it a week ago.
The plan calls for all collective bargaining rights to be removed for state employees effective July 1, except with regard to wages. But any salary increase could not be higher than the consumer price index unless voters approve otherwise, the Huffington Post reports.
All contracts would be limited to one year, with no raises between contracts. Public employees would not be allowed to collect union dues, the Huffington Post reported.
Police and firefighter unions would be exempt.
Walker is trying to close a $3.5 billion budget hole. He tells WTMJ radio in Milwaukee that his proposal would help save money, partly by making government workers pay bigger shares of their pensions and health care costs.
Employees would have to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pensions starting April 1, and 12.6 percent toward their health care, the Huffington Post reported.
“For us, the budget itself is not negotiable,” Walker said. “We have to balance it, and we’re going to do it without raising taxes.”
Meanwhile, Thursday was the second day schools in Madison were closed, as teachers prepared spend another day at the Capitol. Dozens of other school districts followed suit Thursday and closed, including La Crosse, Racine, Beaver Dam, Mosinee, Watertown and Stoughton.
On Wednesday, as many as 20,000 people demonstrated outside the Capitol, chanting, “This is wrong!” as they stood outside the state Capitol.
Teachers’ Union leader Mary Bell said the issue is not big contracts or benefits, but fair pay and children’s futures.
“We need your to help, show your support for that third grade teacher who stays late to help students with their math,” Bell said at the protest Wednesday night.
One teacher from Elkhorn, Wis., says she is scared, sad and disappointed over the governor’s plan.
Walker also drew ire when he announced last week that he had put the Wisconsin National Guard on notice to respond to any labor problems stemming from his plan. They were put on notice in passed Walker’s bill on a partisan vote just before midnight.
Walker said Friday that he had briefed the Guard into action, but he has briefed them and other state agencies in preparation of any problems that could result in a disruption of state services, like staffing at prisons.
But critics said the move was inappropriate, including a former National Guard member quoted on the Web site VoteVets.org.
“Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet – but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent,” former Wisconsin National Guard member and Iraq War veteran Robin Eckstein said in a news release. “The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents. Considering many veterans and Guard members are union members, it’s even more inappropriate to use the Guard in this way. This is a very dangerous line the governor is about to cross.”
The State of Wisconsin passed a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959 and was the birthplace of the national union representing all non-federal public employees.
The Legislature’s Republican-run budget committee passed Walker’s bill on a partisan vote just before midnight.
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