MADISON, Wis., Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he was considering changes in a bill that would take away most bargaining rights from public employees.
However, Walker said he was doing so in response to prompting from Republican lawmakers and was "not intimidated" by massive protests by teachers that led to the shutdown of public schools in Madison Wednesday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
An estimated 40 percent of the city's teachers called in sick Wednesday so they could go to the Wisconsin Capitol to protest Walker's plan to strip most bargaining rights from public workers as part of a plan to help state and local governments close budget deficits. The Legislature's budget committee was set to meet Wednesday night to discuss changes in the bill, the newspaper said.
As proposed, the bill -- which exempts police, firefighters and state troopers from its provisions -- would require most state workers to pay more toward their retirement and healthcare coverage. It would limit annual pay raises to the rate of inflation, deprive workers of the right to bargain on any issue except pay and ban unions from having members' dues deducted from state paychecks, the Journal Sentinel said.
Walker told reporters in Madison Wednesday he is willing to make some changes, but he said the votes are there in the Legislature to pass the measure without changes.
Wisconsin faces a $137 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 30. The bill to strip most bargaining rights from state workers would save $30 million for the current fiscal year and almost $300 million during the two subsequent fiscal years, Walker has said.