Neither side budging in Wisconsin union fight

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - No resolution appeared imminent Monday to the stalemate overunion rights in Wisconsin, leaving Senate Republicans resigned toforge ahead with less-controversial business such as tax breaks fordairy farmers and commending the Green Bay Packers on winning theSuper Bowl.

As the standoff entered its second week, none of the majorplayers offered any signs of backing down in a high-stakes game ofpolitical chicken that has riveted the nation and led to ongoingpublic protests that drew a high of 68,000 people on Saturday.Thousands more braved cold winds and temperatures in the 20s tomarch again on Monday, waving signs that said "Stop the attack onWisconsin families" and "solidarity."

The 14 Senate Democrats who skipped town Thursday toindefinitely delay a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's billstripping most collective bargaining rights from nearly all publicemployees remained missing in action for a fifth day.

Walker refused to back down and again called on the Democrats toreturn and vote on the bill

"For those 14 Senate Democrats, you've had your time," he said."It's time for them to come back and participate in democracy."

The Democrats have been far from in hiding. They've donenumerous television interviews and two of them even participated,via telephone from an undisclosed location, in a brief meeting toschedule the Senate's session on Tuesday.

"You have shut down the people's government, and that is notacceptable," Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgeraldsaid to them during the meeting.

Both the Senate and Assembly planned to be in session on Tuesdayto take up the bill, but at least one of the missing Democratsneeded to show up for a vote to be taken in the Senate. AssemblyDemocrats planned to offer dozens of amendments that could push avote into Wednesday or later.

Although Tuesday's list of items, including the resolutionhonoring the Packers, is largely bipartisan, Fitzgerald hinted thathe might try to push some more controversial ones later, even ifthe Democrats aren't back. Among the possibilities is a vote on thequestion of whether voters should be required to showidentification at the polls.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller said Democratswere waiting for Walker to compromise.

"It's right in front of the governor," Miller said. "He justneeds to pick it up and allow us to move on. ... This is ano-brainer."

Under one deal, the unions said they would accept paying morefor benefits as Walker wants but still retain their collectivebargaining rights. Another compromise offered by Republican Sen.Dale Schultz would remove collective bargaining rights just for twoyears.

Walker has repeatedly rejected both offers, saying localgovernments and school districts can't be hamstrung by the oftenlengthy collective bargaining process and need to have moreflexibility to deal with up to $1 billion in cuts he will proposein his budget next week and into the future.

As he spoke under heavy guard at a late afternoon newsconference inside his conference room, thousands of protesterscould be heard through the doors blowing whistles, banging on drumsand chanting "Scott Walker has got to go!"

"This guy is power drunk and we're here to sober him up," saidBert Zipperer, 54, a counselor at a Madison middle school who wasamong the protesters. "He wants to do it unilaterally without anycompromise. He wants to be a national conservative hero and hethinks he can get away with this."

The emergency plan Walker wants the Legislature to pass wouldaddress this year's $137 million shortfall and start dealing withthe $3.6 billion hole expected by mid-2013. The benefitsconcessions would amount to $30 million this year, but the largestsavings Walker proposed comes from refinancing debt to save $165million.

That portion must be done by Friday for bonds to be refinancedin time to realize the savings by June 30, the end of this fiscalyear.

Walker said not passing the bill by Friday would make evendeeper cuts necessary and possibly result in laying off 1,500workers over the next four months.

Thousands of those affected and their supporters marched on theCapitol for a seventh straight day. Hundreds of them have beensleeping in the rotunda every night and several districts have hadto close after so many teachers called in sick. The Madison SchoolDistrict was closed Wednesday through Monday but was expected toreopen Tuesday.

Districts in central Wisconsin were also closed Monday, but thatwas because of 10 to 12 inches of snow. Milwaukee schools were shutdown for a pre-scheduled midsemester break. Those closures, on topof Monday being a previously scheduled furlough day for stateworkers, resulted in another large crowd Monday but an officialestimate was not yet released.

At noon, guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine tookto a stage on the Capitol steps to fire up the crowd. He said heflew in from California to lend his voice to the protest.

"The future of workers' rights will be decided in Madison,Wisconsin," he said.

"You're making history here."

He joked that he could hardly play the guitar because hisfingers were numb. He sang a song with the refrain, "For the unionmen and women standing up and standing strong!" Each time herepeated that lyric, the crowd roared.

Walker's plan would allow unions representing most publicemployees to negotiate only for wage increases, not benefits orworking conditions. Any wage increase above the Consumer PriceIndex would have to be approved in a referendum. Unions would facea vote of membership every year to stay formed, and workers couldopt out of paying dues.

The plan would also require many public employees to cut theirtake home pay by about 8 percent by contributing more of theirsalaries toward their health insurance and retirement benefits,concessions the unions have said they're willing to accept.

But Walker and Republicans are showing no willingness to budgewhile the Senate Democrats say they are prepared to stay away forweeks if that's what it will take.

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Associated Press writer Ryan J. Foley contributed to thisreport.


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