MADISON, Wis. — Thousands of Wisconsin state workers were bracing for layoff notices Friday as the Republican governor and absent Democratic lawmakers remained in a standoff over a budget balancing bill that would also strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights.
Gov. Scott Walker said he would issue 1,500 layoff notices Friday if at least one of the 14 Senate Democrats doesn't return from Illinois to give the Republican majority the quorum it needs to vote. Senate Republicans voted Thursday to hold the missing Democrats in contempt and force police to bring them back to the Capitol.
Walker wants to decrease funding to school districts and local governments to ease a budget deficit. He says taking away public employees' collective bargaining rights is necessary because schools and local governments would have a tough time making cuts if they have to negotiate with unions.
The statewide teachers union and state workers unions have said they would agree to Walker's proposed benefit concessions — which would amount to an 8 per cent pay cut — as long as they retain collective bargaining rights.
Labour leaders say the measure is really meant to weaken the power of unions, which count many government employees among their ranks and provide a key voter base for Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald cancelled Friday's floor session, saying in a statement that Republican senators want time to allow law enforcement to adjust their staffing levels and "help the Capitol to return to something of a sense of normalcy."
The budget balancing legislation has led to nearly three weeks of protests — some attended by tens of thousands of union supporters — in and around the state capitol, which was completely cleared of demonstrators late Thursday for the first time in 17 nights after a judge ordered the building closed during non-business hours.
The protesters' dramatic departure capped a day full of developments, including Walker's threat of massive layoffs he said would be needed to make up for savings not being realized in the stalled bill.
With the labour bill stalled, Walker said he has to issue layoff notices starting Friday so the state can start to realize the $30 million savings he had assumed would come from the concessions. The layoffs wouldn't be effective for 31 days, and Walker said he could rescind them if the bill passed in the meantime.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller confirmed there were talks with Walker, but he did not think they were close to reaching a deal.