Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Slightest Signs of Compromise Emerge in Wisconsin Labor Fight

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Slightest Signs of Compromise Emerge in Wisconsin Labor Fight

Article excerpt

The warring factions could be taking note of voter restlessness over the long standoff between the governor and Wisconsin's state workers - or they could simply be wearing down. Either way, hint of compromise is in the air.

The standoff in Wisconsin over the power of public employee unions is showing signs of budging as feuding state lawmakers, including Gov. Scott Walker (R), hint that some element of compromise is the only thing that will prevent the stalemate from entering its fourth week. Opinion polls released this week suggest that Wisconsin voters are becoming restless as the protracted battle drags on.

Wisconsin's 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois three weeks ago to prevent the Republican majority from voting on a bill that would limit collective bargaining for many public employees and would increase workers' pension and health benefit obligations. While union supporters say the bill is a political play to erode union membership, Governor Walker says such moves are needed to close the state's estimated $3.6 billion budget gap over the next two years.

From the start, Walker made it clear he would not waver. After some failed attempts to lure at least a few Senate Democrats back to Madison, the state capital, Walker issued a final ultimatum Thursday, saying he will lay off 1,500 state workers by the end of Friday unless the Democrats return. On Friday, Senate Republicans voted 19-0 for a resolution that finds Democrats in contempt of the Senate and authorizes state troopers to arrests any senators discovered in Wisconsin borders.

At press time, Walker had not announced the layoffs and no Senate Democrats have been arrested.

Speaking to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Friday, Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald described his Democratic colleagues as creating a "constitutional crisis." "They're insulting the very fabric of our representative democracy," he added.

However, some Republicans, choosing their words carefully, may be signaling that they are willing to bend. Democratic senators would need three Republicans to defeat the bill. Sen. Dale Schultz (R), speaking to a local radio show in Monroe, Wis., this week, said his fellow Republican senators are "wasting valuable time about collective bargaining, which I don't ever remember being a part of the last election whatsoever. But most of all ... this just looks like the classic overreach we see every two years."

As for the Democrats, Sen. Bob Jauch told the Journal-Sentinel this week that staying out of Wisconsin in hopes of winning Republican votes was "not practical" and that his side needs to look outside the bill for ways to protect union rights.

Even Walker is hinting he may be willing to deal on some parts of his bill, such as the measure that requires unions to hold an election each year to ratify their status, which he acknowledges would not save Wisconsin money. …

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