1/01/2011

The Battle over State Government Employee Salaries in Wisconsin

Democrats in Wisconsin tried to push through a favorable contract for state workers in a very contentious lame duck session while they still controlled the legislature and the governorship. Ultimately the effort failed by a single vote in the State Senate. Here is even the liberal version of events from the NY Times:

In the end, the State Assembly approved most of the contracts by a single vote, one that was cast, Republicans complain bitterly, by a legislator who had been permitted to travel to Madison to vote though he was serving a jail sentence (with work-release privileges) for driving under the influence of an intoxicant. But a tie in the State Senate — thanks, in part, shockingly to a “no” vote from the Democrats’ own majority leader — meant the contracts failed. (The leader, Russ Decker of Schofield, who had already lost his re-election bid, was then deposed by his caucus.)

Once Mr. Walker is sworn in, brand-new negotiations are presumed for state employee contracts. Union leaders are gloomy — or worse. They complain that Mr. Walker has, so far, ignored their efforts to reach out to him. A union leader, Bryan Kennedy, suggested that Mr. Walker was aiming to change the state’s long-held motto, “Forward,” to “Always the Low Price.”

Lawmakers in both parties predict a range of possibilities for state workers will now be on the table: salary cuts, higher health care contributions, and new restrictions and employee contributions for pensions. For his part, Mr. Walker’s office issued a statement saying: “He believes that state workers are great people who do great work, but he understands that to get through these tough budget times there will need to be shared sacrifice, which is why on his first day on the job he will begin making a 5 percent pension contribution voluntarily.”

Robin Vos, a Republican leader in the Assembly, was less diplomatic, bemoaning a rise in Wisconsin’s spending in recent years and a predicted $3.3 billion deficit in the coming budget. “Compare benefits at any large corporation with any government worker, and it’s not even close,” he said. “It’s not just Wisconsin. Look around.” . . .


One gets some idea of how hot the emotions are running from the Wisconsin State Journal. The Democrat unions aren't exactly stretching out an open hand to work with the new Republican Governor Scott Walker.

When outgoing Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker , D-Wausau, reversed course Wednesday night and voted against union contracts for some 39,000 state employees, he doomed unions to continue talks that have already taken longer than any in recent memory.

Union leaders on Thursday expressed anxiety about future labor unrest and rage at the man they say has betrayed them. Decker, a former bricklayer with union ties, voted for the contracts in the Legislature's joint employee relations committee hours before he cast the deciding vote against them in the Senate.

"Russ Decker is a whore," said Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, which represents 22,000 state employees. "Not a prostitute. A whore. W-H-O-R-E."

Decker said the clock had simply run out for the current administration and the matter should be left to the next governor. Beil called the reversal a betrayal. . . .

"The ball is in (Walker's [the new governor's]) court," Beil said. "We will make no overtures toward them. It will be up to them to come to the table." . . .


Decker was even accused by his fellow Democrats of being bribed to vote the way he did.

Doyle added he's interested to see where Decker ends up in the coming months.
"There's been some pretty significant accusations made by other members of the Senate about what might be in it for him, and I assume everybody is going to watch very closely to see if he ends up with a job or something," Doyle said.

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