Wisconsin Democrats Boycott Vote On Union Bill

fromWPR

Protests continued in Madison, Wis., on Thursday over the governor's plan to get some savings from the state's public employee unions. The latest twist is that Senate Democrats have gone fishing — walking away from the vote and leaving the body unable to meet on the issue.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

There was a dramatic twist in Wisconsin today, as protests continue over the governor's budget plan.

Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, wants to cut the pay and benefits of public employees and take away most of their collective bargaining rights.

Well, today Democratic state senators left the building, and possibly the state, in a boycott that kept lawmakers from voting on the plan, and it gave tens of thousands of teachers more time to protest, as Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn John reports from Madison.

SHAWN JOHNSON: Teachers stood shoulder to shoulder in the packed state capitol building for the largest protest here yet. While this isn't an official strike, the state's teacher union encouraged its members to be here. Many schools across the state had to shut down.

LaCrosse teacher Ronnah Metz says she's never done anything like this.

RONNAH METZ: Not in my 18 years.

JOHNSON: Metz knows she'll face consequences for coming here: Her school stayed open today. But she says it's worth it.

METZ: We absolutely had to do this. We had no choice. And believe me I pondered it many, many hours before I called in sick.

JOHNSON: Teacher Diana Callope is here for a second day to protest Republican Governor Scott Walker's plan.

DIANA CALLOPE: Life will probably never go back to normal unless this gets killed.

JOHNSON: It's been a day of conflicting reports and considerable confusion as to where the state's 14 Democratic senators might be hiding. Until the Senate staff finds at least one of them, the governor's plan can't go anywhere.

Republican Senator Glen Grothman calls that an extreme move both by his Democratic colleagues and the teachers supporting them.

GLEN GROTHMAN: I feel sorry for the parents who have to pay for an additional day of day care by surprise. And I also feel sorry for the children that the parents are being bad role models today.

JOHNSON: But those protesting today think they're being good role models, standing up for what they say goes beyond cuts in benefits and pay. They insist the real battle is over union bargaining rights that have been in place here for decades.

For NPR News, I'm Shawn Johnson in Madison.

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