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Wis. Assembly near chaos over union bill

  |   Feb. 18, 2011 at 8:21 PM
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VIDEO: Walker makes his case
VIDEO: Walker makes his case
MADISON, Wis., Feb. 18 (UPI) -- The battle in Wisconsin over a bill to strip state workers of collective bargaining rights spilled into the Assembly, with Democrats calling Republicans "un-American."

Republican Assembly leaders called members to the chamber in Madison Friday for a 5 p.m. vote on the bill to repeal public employee bargaining rights but began voting before Democrats arrived, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. As they entered the Assembly chamber, Democrats called the vote illegal and demanded the majority Republicans rescind it.

In response, Republican staff members urged lawmakers to "keep going, keep going," the newspaper said. Republicans completed their vote before recognizing Minority Leader Peter Barca, who called the action "unbelievable."

"Unprecedented! Un-American! Not in keeping with the values of the state," Barca screamed. "You should be ashamed of yourselves."

Following a loud debate, Republicans agreed to rescind the vote and allow amendments to be offered at a subsequent time.

Marty Beil, head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, the largest state workers union, representing about 23,000 blue-collar workers, issued a statement saying the union would accept Gov. Scott Walker's demand that employees pay a larger portion of pension and healthcare costs but will not "be denied our rights to collectively bargain."

Walker told the Journal Sentinel that offer "doesn't work."

Tea Party organizers plan a rally Saturday in front of the State Capitol to support the anti-union bill.

Organized labor is preparing a national campaign to support the unions in Wisconsin, the newspaper said.

President Barack Obama's political operation, Organizing for America, worked Thursday with state and national union officials to mobilize thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and plans to do the same in capitals of other states that are considering curbs for public employee unions, The Washington Post reported.

"Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where they're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions," Obama told a Milwaukee television reporter during an interview in Washington. "I think everybody's got to make some adjustments, but I think it's also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens."

Under Walker's proposal, most public workers, except for police, firefighters and state troopers, would have to pay half of their pension costs and at least 12 percent of their healthcare costs. They also would lose rights to bargain for anything other than pay. Walker said the measure was necessary to save $300 million for the next two years to help shrink a $3.6 billion budget gap.

In Madison, Democratic senators successfully blocked the bill's passage Thursday by not showing up for a quorum call. Republicans hold a 19-14 edge in the Senate but 20 votes are needed for the bill's final passage.

Outside the Capitol, thousands of protesters gathered with signs and chants against Walker's initiative.

By the end of Thursday, Democratic Party officials worked to organize demonstrations in Ohio and Indiana, where efforts are under way to cut benefits for public workers.

Wisconsin Republican state senators vowed to vote Friday to cut public employee benefits and most union bargaining rights while Democrats boycotted the session, Wisconsin media outlets reported.

The GOP pledge came as state and local teachers union leaders urged members to rally at the Capitol Friday and Saturday to protest Walker's proposal.

Walker told the Democrats to call off their "stunt" and "show up and do the job they're paid to do."

Walker, elected in November after pledging to get public workers' compensation "into line," said he had received more than 8,000 e-mails on the collective-bargaining issue and most backed his position, the Journal Sentinel said.

Several Democratic senators wouldn't say how long they'd stay away from the Capitol.

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Topics: Scott Walker
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