Governor Scott Walker continued to play hardball yesterday with the fleeing Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate, announcing that as many as 1500 state workers would get layoff notices in 15 days unless his budget repair bill passed. In the Senate, Republicans continued negotiations in what appears to be an attempt to allow them to save face without budging on the core reforms in the bill:
According to GOP sources familiar with talks on the bill, the discussions with Democratic senators holed up in Illinois include removing or changing a provision from Walker’s budget-repair bill that would limit unions’ bargaining over wages to the rate of inflation. The talks have also touched on the possibility of removing or changing a provision that would require workers to vote every year on whether their union would remain active or be decertified, the sources said.
The last provision especially is anathema to Democrats and unions, who say it could kill many labor groups. The sources asked not to be identified because they had no clearance to speak and because the talks were still delicate.
The Republican governor acknowledged Thursday that his administration was in talks with Democrats but declined to provide details. He also signaled for the first time in the budget crisis that he might be willing to make at least a marginal change to his budget-repair proposal.
Those two provisions may be the most provocative, but are not the most critical to reform. Employees can call for a decertification vote in most instances if 30% of the shop expresses a desire for such an election, usually by card collection. I’ve worked in a business with a union shop that held two decertification votes in two years; the second was successful. Putting an upper limit on wage negotiation to the rate of inflation would make it easier for the state and local governments to plan budgets, but as a cost control measure, it’s secondary to eliminating collective bargaining on pensions and benefits.
At least according to the Journal-Sentinel, the terms do not appear to include the biggest reforms in Walker’s bill. Creating an open shop with no state collection of dues will choke the union, and at least the latter can probably be done through executive order as Mitch Daniels did in Indiana six years ago. Putting it into law carries more force and makes it impossible for a later Democratic governor to undo through unilateral action, but at least for now the jig is up on union dues collections. Eliminating collective bargaining on pensions and benefits will shut down the WEA Trust, another major source of income for unions through price-gouging on health insurance. Almost any deal that retains those reforms will be well worth the trade-offs.
Negotiating with politicians who refuse to engage in the legislative process could very well encourage more fleebagging down the road, so in one real sense, the GOP could end up legitimizing the tactic. I’d guess that the Republicans are only going to bother with this for a few more days before breaking out the reforms in a separate bill and passing them under normal quorums if the Democrats don’t take the face-saving offer soon, whether Walker wants to do so or not, or at least well before the 15-day layoff deadline.
Update: I wrote Illinois when I meant Indiana, where Mitch Daniels is governor. I’ve corrected it above.