Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Walker notifies unions of layoffs, but gives Democrats 15 days to reverse move

March 4, 2011- Gov. Scott Walker notified unions Friday of impending layoffs if a budget-repair bill isn't passed in the next 15 days, even as both Republicans and Democrats showed signs of moving from their entrenched positions as they try to break a stalemate that has lasted nearly three weeks.

Walker warned Thursday that he would issue the notices on Friday that would affect up to 1,500 state employees. The actual notices, however, did not spell out how many people could be laid off, and a spokesman for the governor said the layoffs could be reduced by employee retirements.

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.

The bill has been stalled since Feb. 17, when all 14 Senate Democrats left the state. Twenty senators must be present to pass spending bills, and Republicans have only 19 seats.

The budget-repair bill would require most public workers to pay more for their health care and pensions, eliminate most collective bargaining by their unions, and give the governor broad powers to reshape the state's health care programs for the poor and elderly.

Unions have agreed to the concessions on their benefits, but the provisions taking away most collective bargaining have prompted sustained protests for over two weeks.

In a sign of the political stakes for the governor, a poll released Friday found a solid majority of likely voters in Wisconsin disapprove of Walker's job performance.


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