Protesters in Wisconsin Say They Are Staying Put
Union leaders urged Wisconsin teachers to return to work at schools that are open on Monday, but large protests were expected to continue at the Capitol against a plan to cut collective bargaining rights and benefits to state workers.
“We’ll be here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — as long as it takes,” Gary Lonzo, a union organizer and former Wisconsin corrections officer, said Sunday as he watched protesters banging drums and waving signs here for a sixth day in a row.
“We’re not going anywhere.” As the protests went on through falling sleet and snow, some lawmakers suggested that a compromise might yet be possible over the cuts that Gov.Scott Walker, a Republican, has proposed.
A spokesman for Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican senator, said that Mr.Schultz supported Mr.Walker, particularly in his assessment that the state budget situation was dire, but that Mr.Schultz also hoped to work to preserve collective bargaining rights.
Chris Larson, a Senate Democrat, said he, too, sensed some “wavering” among the Republican coalition that is expected to pass the measure.
Republican leaders dismissed all such talk and said that they intended to pass the package of cuts to state workers’ health care and pension benefits, and limits to broad collective bargaining rights.
“The caucus is rock solid,” Scott Fitzgerald, the Senate majority leader, said on Sunday.
Democrats in the State Senate, meanwhile, who are in the minority but are needed for a quorum, said Sunday that they intended to remain out of state — and far from the voting chamber — until Republican leaders agree to remove broad collective bargaining restrictions from the proposal to increase workers’ health care and pension costs.
“This is not a stunt, it’s not a prank,” said Senator Jon Erpenbach, one of the Democrats who drove away from Madison early Thursday, hours before a planned vote, and would say only that he was in Chicago.
“This is not an option I can ever see us doing again, but in this case, it’s absolutely the right thing to do. What they want to do is not the will of the people,” he said.
On Tuesday, the State Assembly, also dominated by Republicans, is expected to take up the matter.
Democrats in that chamber said they planned to introduce a long list of amendments; some predicted that discussions over the bill would last for hours, if not days.
Mr.Walker’s plan would require government workers to put 5.8 percent of their pay into their pensions (most pay less than 1 percent now), and would require them to pay at least 12.6 percent of health care premiums (most pay about 6 percent now).
Union leaders said they would go along with those plans, but they wanted to remove provisions that would prohibit collective bargaining for issues beyond wages, limit pay raises to a certain level without special approval by public referendum and require unions to hold annual votes on whether they should remain in existence.
“We have been clear — and I will restate this again today — money issues are off the table,” Mary Bell, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said on Sunday. “Public employees have agreed to Governor Walker’s pension and health care concessions, which he says will solve the budget challenge.”
As protests continued here, dozens of “solidarity events” in support of Wisconsin union members were being planned across the country over the next several days, including rallies on Monday in Las Vegas; Helena, Mont.; Carson City, Nev.; and Raleigh, N.C.
The marble-filled Capitol here has taken on a new look over so many days of protests: homemade signs hang in the famous rotunda, as well as on many walls and windows; protesters have set up a makeshift “information center” in one hallway, a sleeping area (quiet time begins at 11 most nights) with neatly folded blankets in another; and clusters of police officers, some from other parts of Wisconsin, stand watch.