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Wisconsin Governor Warns Of Layoff Notices

Demonstrators protest inside the Wisconsin state Capitol on Tuesday. With Senate Democrats still in hiding over the legislation proposed by the governor to restrict collective bargaining for public workers, Republicans threatened to move on without them in conducting other state business. i

Demonstrators protest inside the Wisconsin state Capitol on Tuesday. With Senate Democrats still in hiding over the legislation proposed by the governor to restrict collective bargaining for public workers, Republicans threatened to move on without them in conducting other state business. Eric Thayer/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Eric Thayer/Getty Images
Demonstrators protest inside the Wisconsin state Capitol on Tuesday. With Senate Democrats still in hiding over the legislation proposed by the governor to restrict collective bargaining for public workers, Republicans threatened to move on without them in conducting other state business.

Demonstrators protest inside the Wisconsin state Capitol on Tuesday. With Senate Democrats still in hiding over the legislation proposed by the governor to restrict collective bargaining for public workers, Republicans threatened to move on without them in conducting other state business.

Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker warned Tuesday that state employees could start receiving layoff notices as early as next week if a bill eliminating most collective bargaining rights isn't passed soon.

Walker said in a statement to The Associated Press that the layoffs wouldn't take effect immediately. He didn't say which workers would be targeted but he has repeatedly warned that up to 1,500 workers could lose their jobs by July if his proposal isn't passed.

"Hopefully we don't get to that point," Walker said.

It could take weeks or even months to lay off workers under the terms of their current union contracts.

Round-the-clock protests against legislation are getting louder as lawmakers in the state Assembly debate the budget repair bill.

Democrats in the Assembly stood up time and again to ask procedural questions, to seek to clarify the rules and to offer amendments in their attempts to try to derail the legislation.

"This is a Trojan horse of bad conservative ideas put into a bill," said Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Madison.

But GOP lawmakers are standing firm in their contention that curbing public employees' collective bargaining rights is crucial for balancing state and local governments' budgets.

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, a Republican, said Wisconsinites want the bill passed.

"The best thing that happened for us over the weekend is us getting a chance to go back home to our districts and listen to our constituents, and let me tell you, it was overwhelming, the people and support that are on our side," he said.

Senate Democrats walked out last week rather than vote on Walker's bill that would force public workers to pay more for their benefits. The governor also wants to eliminate collective bargaining for nearly all workers except concerning salary increases that aren't greater than the Consumer Price Index.

The proposal, designed to help Wisconsin plug a projected $3.6 billion budget hole, has led to eight straight days of massive protests that grew as large as 68,000 people on Saturday.

Senate Democrats have said they won't come back until Walker is willing to negotiate. Public employees have said they would agree to concessions Walker wants cuts that would amount to an 8 percent pay cut on average, but they want to retain their collective bargaining rights. One Republican senator also has floated an alternative that would make the elimination of those rights temporary.

Walker has repeatedly rejected both offers, saying local governments and school districts can't be hamstrung by the often lengthy collective bargaining process. He says they need to have more flexibility to deal with up to $1 billion in cuts he will propose in his budget next week and into the future.

Ohio

While Wisconsin remained the main front in the national debate over union rights, similar battles were taking shape in other states.

In Ohio, legislators are considering their own bill to weaken collective bargaining rights for unionized state workers, including firefighters and police — two groups excluded from Wisconsin's plan.

"This is about union rights across the board," said Kevin McCafferty, a Cleveland firefighter who came to the state capital, Columbus, to protest Senate Bill No. 5. "This bill contains things that are just designed to weaken those rights."

McCafferty said that if passed the measure could directly affect police and firefighters' personal safety.

"In the future, we will have no say on how many men go out the door to a fire," he said. "We will have no say on protective clothing as it improves."

Ohio has a projected $8 billion budget deficit over the next two years. Republican state Sen. Kevin Bacon says that to deal with that hole, Ohio lawmakers need to show flexibility "so that they can make adjustments in the time of [a] down economy."

"They can't currently do [that] because so much of this is ingrained in statute and prevents the employers from having the ability to make these adjustments," he said.

That's a point Republican Gov. John Kasich has been stressing as well. He tweeted Tuesday:"We aren't backing down in OH."

Opponents of the effort say if the bill passes, they will fight to put collective bargaining on the ballot as a referendum.

While General Assembly Democrats strongly oppose this legislation, Republicans hold comfortable majorities in both chambers in the state. A vote could be held in the state even if Ohio Democrats follow the lead of their Wisconsin peers and flee the state.

Meanwhile in Indiana, House Democrats walked out of the Statehouse on Tuesday, blocking a GOP-backed bill against mandatory union dues. Only three of the 40 Democratic members of the chamber were present, depriving it of a quorum.

NPR's David Schaper and Sonari Glinton contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press

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