AWOL WI Dem: GOP May End Collective Bargaining Without Us

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-WI)
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UPDATE: State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) told the AP that he did not plan to hold a stand-alone vote tomorrow on collective bargaining, despite the fears of the Democrats in exile.

Senate Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature up and left town last week for one reason: to stop the Republican majority from passing Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) proposed scheme to end collective bargaining for state worker benefits.

Now, one of the Democrats who hightailed it out of the Badger State worries the Republicans could go ahead and kill the collective bargaining anyway.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach told the AP today that he’s afraid Republicans may strip the collective bargaining ban from the budget bill, which requires a quorum of 20 Senators to be in the chamber to pass. With the state Senate’s 14 Democrats out of town, the Republicans can only get their 19 members to a debate — meaning budget negotiations are out. But Erpenbach says the GOP may attach the controversial collective bargaining law to another, non-budgetary bill as an amendment.

State Senate rules require only a simple majority to pass a non-fiscal law. That means that only 17 Republican votes from the party’s 19-vote majority would be needed to end the collective bargaining.

That has Erpenbach worried. But so far, Republicans haven’t said what their plans are.

“Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Sunday the Senate may come into session to take up appointments and other bills Tuesday, but he didn’t say which ones,” the AP reports.

Update: In a pair of new AP reports, Erpenbach’s fears appear to have been alleviated. Republicans in the state legislature say they won’t end collective bargaining while the Democrats are in town — and that fact could show a weakness in Walker’s GOP coalition.

Erpenbach told the wire service that there are around “five or six” moderate GOP state Senators “who have ties to organized labor” and therefore are less interested in wholesale union busting than the Walker-types in Madison seem to be. One of the Senate’s moderates, Sen. Dale Schultz (R), floated a plan last week that would have kept collective bargaining in place over the long haul, but banned it for two years. That plan seemed to go nowhere when Walker (and the unions) said no way to the scheme.

But Erpenbach told the AP that the plan may be a sign that there is dissension in the GOP ranks, pointing to the handful of moderate Republicans — only three of which need to vote against their party to kill the Walker budget in the state Senate.

Now comes evidence that Erpenbach could be right. After he raised fears of the GOP going its own way and ending collective bargaining without the Democrats, the state Senate Republican leader told the AP the Senate won’t vote on collective bargaining unless the Democrats are in town. That means that if Walker wants to reform the way his state works with unions, he’ll have to get Erpenbach and his AWOL Democratic colleagues back to Madison.

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