From The New York Times
An increasingly heated national debate about the rights of union workers was stuck in a standoff Wednesday as Democratic lawmakers here and in Indiana stayed away from their Capitols to frustrate Republican efforts to vote on legislation that would undercut collective bargaining and the ability to organize.
While Republicans insisted that the bills were required to balance state budgets, Democrats and thousands of protesters who circled and chanted outside the Capitols in the two states insisted that the legislation was an all-out attack on the middle class.
In Ohio, where thousands of protesters last week had argued against a bill that would ban collective bargaining for state workers, Senate leaders agreed to change the legislation, to allow state workers the chance to negotiate wages. But the measure would now ban public employees from striking.
As the fights in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana have garnered national attention, more fights were expected soon — in Oklahoma, where the House is considering legislation that would ban collective bargaining with municipal unions, and in Tennessee, where Republican lawmakers had introduced legislation to prevent collective bargaining between teachers’ unions and local school boards.
In Wisconsin, Democratic lawmakers said the state’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, was out purely to bust the unions, noting that the unions had already agreed to the concessions on wages and benefits to balance the budget.
Their suspicions were increased after the revelation of comments Mr. Walker made during what turned out to be a prank phone call from a blogger posing as a well-known conservative donor. In the call, the governor discussed tactics to trick Democrats back to the Capitol, and compared his efforts to President Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers in 1981. “This is our moment, this is our time to change history,” Mr. Walker said.
The caller was Ian Murphy, the editor of the New York-based Web site Buffalo Beast, posing as David Koch, who with his brother Charles leads Koch Industries, which finances libertarian causes like the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity and which helped mobilize a Tea Party demonstration in support of the governor on Saturday.
Mr. Walker told him that his office had considered inviting the Democrats back on the premise of having an informal conversation, at which point the Republicans could declare that they had quorum.
In a news conference later, Mr. Walker said he did not want to get “distracted” by a phone call. But he said the legislation, which would take away unions’ power to bargain on anything besides wages, was necessary to allow the state’s municipalities the ability to deal with tough financial times.
The legislation, he said, would save local governments $1.44 billion, which would more than offset the cuts to local governments in the budget he expects to release Tuesday.
The Senate needs a quorum of 20 members to consider legislation with budget implications, and Republicans have only 19 votes. Democrats, who had fled to the Chicago area, insisted that it was the governor who was refusing to compromise after the unions had made financial concessions. Both sides said that if the standoff was not resolved in the next couple of days, the state would lose its ability to refinance debt for a savings of $165 million.
The Democratic members of the Indiana House of Representatives — like their counterparts in Wisconsin, a minority — left Indianapolis quietly Tuesday night to deny Republicans quorum, hoping to kill legislation that included a bill that would allow workers in private sector unions the right to opt out of their dues or fees.
Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, accused the absent Democrats of showing “complete contempt for the democratic process,” adding, “You don’t walk off the job, take your public paycheck with you, and attempt to bring the whole process to a halt.”
But thousands of agitated protesters in hard hats and work boots clogged the halls of the Statehouse, chanting and cheering in support of the Democrats, most of whom remained camped at a discount hotel in Urbana, Ill., about a two-hour drive across the state line from Indianapolis.
In a call to reporters who had gathered in his office, B. Patrick Bauer, the minority speaker of the House, said from Urbana that the union legislation had been but one of many “wrongful bills” that would “rip the heart out of the middle class.”
Asked when the Democrats might return to Indiana, Mr. Bauer said: “What reason would you go if you’re faced with war words? I’m willing to go there, but I want to know that they’ll talk.”
The Capitols were transformed by the protests. In Wisconsin, where the demonstrations stretched into their second week, protesters had set up sleeping bags and mattresses, as well as a children’s play area and a first aid station. At an information desk, they could find earplugs for children and a place to charge their mobile devices.
The chanting and drumming of protesters provided a heavy bass soundtrack as the governor spoke to reporters inside his ornate conference room. The noise was quieted only slightly by the arrival of free pizzas sent by a local entrepreneur in support of the demonstrators.
Protesters took the empty boxes and made signs — “Why can’t we be friends with benefits?” and, in a nod to this college town’s mascot, “Walker is a weasel, not a badger.”
In the Statehouse in Indianapolis, the sound of the protests was similarly overwhelming.
“The Democrats were tremendous to walk out, and they’ve got my vote,” said Rick Royer, 51, a heavy equipment operator. “I can put my daughter through college all because of the union. I’m going to support what got us here.”
Late Tuesday, the Democratic lawmakers sent State Representative Brian C. Bosma, the majority leader, a list of concerns about almost a dozen bills and said in a statement from Urbana that they would stay put unless they got assurances that the bills would not be called at all this session.
Mr. Bosma said he would not concede to a list of demands. “Instead,” he said, “we expect the Democrats to return to do the work they were elected to do.”
And in Wisconsin, Republicans in the Senate had scheduled a debate for Thursday on a bill that would require voters to show identification at the polls. The bill has been of concern to Democrats, and Republicans were hoping it might lure even just one of them back to the Senate floor.
· The Bills Democrats are protesting several bills put forward by Republican legislators, including measures that would prohibit making union membership a prerequisite for employment in the private sector and banning collective bargaining by public workers.
· The Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican elected to a second term in 2008, has urged his party to abandon the union membership measure. He is not running for re-election, but he is considering a presidential bid.
· The Legislature Republicans hold majorities in both houses, but Democrats fled the capital to avoid the two-thirds attendance needed for a quorum in the House.
· Projected Deficit Estimates range from $300 million to $1.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year.
· Public Sector 11.5 percent of state work force
· The Bill Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal would prohibit collective bargaining by public sector workers for issues beyond wages, limit raises to a certain level without approval by public referendum, exempt employees from paying union dues and require unions to hold annual votes on whether they should remain in existence. Less controversial are calls for public workers to contribute more to their pension plans and pay higher health insurance premiums.
· The Governor Mr. Walker, a Republican, was elected in 2010 with 52 percent of the vote, replacing a Democrat.
· The Legislature Republicans hold majorities in both houses, but Senate Democrats have left the state to block a quorum and prevent a vote on the measure.
· Projected Deficit $3.6 billion over two years
· Public Sector 12.2 percent of state work force
· The Bill Senate Bill 5 would effectively end collective bargaining for state workers and allow hiring alternate workers during a strike. It would end binding arbitration, an option favored by the police and firemen, who are not allowed to strike.
· The Governor John Kasich, a Republican, defeated Ted Strickland, the Democratic incumbent, in 2010 with 49 percent of the vote.
· The Legislature Republicans hold majorities in both houses, and the Democratic minorities are too small to withhold a quorum.
· Projected Deficit $8 billion over two years
· Public Sector 12.7 percent of state work force