Wis. Gov. Eyeing Changes To Anti-Union Budget Bill

February 16, 2011 12:15 p.m.

Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), who has proposed a budget that would remove key bargaining powers for public employee unions, now says that he and Republican legislators are considering some changes — but not so far as to change its principle.

“We’re willing to (make changes), but we’re just not going to fundamentally undermine the principle of the proposal which is to let not only the state but local governments balance their budgets,” Walker told reporters, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.

Specifically, the proposed changes coming from state legislators — who have been deluged by protests over the past two days — would involve extending some civil service protections to local government workers, in exchange for the loss of most collective bargaining.From the Journal-Sentinel’s report this afternoon:

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) said he had asked Walker for those civil service changes at the request of GOP lawmakers in his house. He said the civil service protections being sought for the bill included protections for working conditions and employees who have a grievance with how a supervisor has treated them.

Republican senators said Wednesday that further amendments were being considered to the bill – the major question remained how far if at all those changes would go.

A GOP source familiar with the talks said Republican Sens. Dale Schultz of Richland Center and Van Wanggaard of Racine were backing a plan to put at least some union bargaining rights back into the bill.

Under Walker’s plan, as TPM has previously reported, most state workers would no longer be able to negotiate for better pensions or health benefits or anything other than higher salaries, which couldn’t rise at a quicker pace than the Consumer Price Index. Walker and state Republican leaders have said the plan is necessary to deal with the state’s budget shortfall.

According to the Associated Press: “The proposal would effectively remove unions’ right to negotiate in any meaningful way. Local law enforcement and fire employees, as well as state troopers and inspectors would be exempt.”

Protesters have converged on the State Capitol in Madison this week, and a legislative hearing at which members of the public could speak lasted for 17 hours before Republican leaders closed it at 3 a.m. (Democratic legislators then continued the listening session through to the morning.) In addition, Madison schools were closed on Wednesday after nearly half of the teachers union members called in sick.

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