How firm will Republicans remain in the face of massive union protests? The man at the top of the state government, Governor Scott Walker, tells National Review that he will not be intimidated into retreat, especially while Senate Democrats attempt to negotiate from Chicago:
State senator Jon Erpenbach, a leading lefty spokesman for the escaped legislators, told the Wisconsin State Journal that his merry band will not return unless Walker blinks. He urged the governor to accept the offer from the unions, which would see public employees contribute more to their benefits but retain their collective-bargaining rights.
“How long we stay out is totally up to the governor,” Erpenbach says from his Chicago hotel room. “There is a very serious offer on the table. If he says no to that, then that means his intent from the very beginning was to bust the public unions in Wisconsin.”
Walker, of course, will not budge. He calls the union’s so-called compromise a “red herring” and will not be influenced by activists on the capitol lawn.
“These tens of thousands of protesters have every right to be heard,” he tells us. “But there are 5.5 million people in this state, and those taxpayers also have a right to be heard. I, for one, am not going to let the protesters overshadow, or shout out, the interest of the state’s taxpayers. And I believe that they are with us in trying to balance this budget.”
Some of Walker’s colleagues in the state Senate may not have as much fortitude. The Wall Street Journal reports that they want to offer a compromise that will only temporarily suspend collective bargaining rights on pensions and benefits for two years in order to entice Democrats to return to Wisconsin:
With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker maintaining a hard line on his budget bill and Democratic senators refusing to return to Madison to vote, attention is turning to a group of moderate Republican senators to negotiate a compromise to the stalemate that has drawn thousands of protesters to the state capital for a sixth straight day.
The proposal, written by Sen. Dale Schultz and first floated in the Republican caucus early last week, calls for most collective bargaining rights of public employee unions to be eliminated – per Mr. Walker’s bill – but then reinstated in 2013, said Mr. Schultzs’s chief of staff Todd Allbaugh.
“Dale is committed to find a way to preserve collective bargaining in the future,” said Mr. Allbaugh in a telephone interview.
I doubt that unions will agree to such a compromise, even if Walker was willing to go along with it. Once they give up comprehensive collective bargaining, the genie will have escaped the bottle. It would act as an admission that unions have helped create insurmountable budget problems, an admission that will encourage other states to pass similar restrictions on public-sector unions.
Besides, the biggest problem for Democrats in this bill isn’t the collective bargaining but the open shop law. If Wisconsin makes union dues voluntary and forces the union to collect them instead of having the payroll deduction from the state, organized labor will lose most of its political clout in the state. The unions need that money to donate to Democrats in elections, and they know full well that most workers won’t enthusiastically contribute those dues on their own. Once they have the money, workers will want to keep it, and unions will have to scratch just to gather operating funds.
The Democrats who fled the state didn’t do so to protect workers. They did it to protect their campaign fundraising. If Republicans back down while the public gives them this much support, they won’t get another chance to free workers from forced dues payments and involuntary union membership as a prerequisite for public service.