The ink barely had time to dry Friday on Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill before he officially rescinded notification of 1,500 planned layoffs of state workers.
Walker said the measures he signed into law would enable the state save $30 million, so it no longer would have to cut the workforce.
“The reforms contained in this legislation, which require modest healthcare and pension contributions from all public employees, will help put Wisconsin on a path to fiscal sustainability,” Walker said.
Walker’s directive to the Office of State Employment Relations rescinded layoff notices he sent to union leaders last week, advising them that job cuts were imminent.
However, the struggle over collective bargaining over in Wisconsin is not over by any means. In a lengthy CNBC interview Friday, Walker acknowledged that unions are likely to use the courts to continue efforts to preserve their hegemony over public employees.
“I’m sure they’ll try all sorts of things,” he said.
Wisconsin Democrats, their coffers overflowing from the national money that poured in during the 14 Democrats’ self-imposed exile over Walker’s efforts to constrain union power, plan a counterattack at the ballot box.
Eight Republican state senators are fighting recall petition drives in their districts, but Democrats also could face recall elections.
The conflict is expected to escalate on Sunday, the termination date Walker has set for nearly 20 collective-bargaining agreements around the state.
Those agreements cover nearly 40,000 state employees
On March 27, employees will begin paying about 12 percent of their healthcare-insurance premiums, and 5.8 percent of their salaries will go to defray the cost of their pension benefits.
The major political fallout once those union deals end: Union dues no longer will be deducted automatically from state workers’ paychecks. Paying those dues will be up to the individual workers, who will have to send their dues directly to the unions without the state as an intermediary.
“Public employees will have the right to choose whether they want to be in a union or not, and whether they want up to $1,000 of their paycheck to go out to union dues, or whether they want to spend it on their family or their healthcare or their pension.”
Other highlights during Walker’s CNBC “Squawk Box” interview:
- Contrary to many reports, Walker said the unions did not agree to fiscal concessions until after his bill to limit their bargaining power had been introduced. And even while touting that gesture of compromise, he said, they were trying to push through union contracts that would extend, and even increase, compensation for public-sector workers.
- Among the beneficiaries of the new deal, he said, are outstanding workers. Without the encumbrance of union regulations, they can now be recognized and rewarded for their performance regardless of seniority, he said.
- Because workers will be evaluated based on performance, Walker predicted voters will see “a better and more accountable government . . . that will help us get the economy going again.”
- Asked whether he liked the idea of being referred to as “America’s Thatcher,” Walker drew laughs by replying: “Well, you know, I don’t know that I’d look very good in a dress.”
- He believes he will be able to work with Democrats despite the bruised feelings over the collective-bargaining battle. “We’ll get back to focusing on what I think all of us were elected to do, which is to help middle-class taxpayers, protect them, and ultimately find ways to put the private sector to work.”
- Walker again defended his actions as reflecting a mandate from voters. “Jobs in Wisconsin aren’t Republican or Democratic jobs. They're Wisconsin jobs. And we’re going to welcome anybody that wants to work with us to put more people to work in the private sector. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
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