- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2011

A dramatic week of angry protests over a bill in the Wisconsin Legislature that would radically limit collective bargaining for state employees came to a boil Thursday with 14 Democratic senators dodging a vote in the Republican-led chamber by fleeing the state and efforts by state police to track them down.

The passage of the budget repair bill that had the anti-union provisions — which seemed certain in the state’s GOP-led Legislature — would deal an enormous blow to union supporters nationwide and likely buoy efforts in other states looking for ways to cut massive deficits.

The dispute also went national, with Washington’s top elected Democrats and Republicans weighing in Wednesday and Thursday.

More than 25,000 protesters stormed the state Capitol building on Thursday, aided by planned sickouts by thousands of workers, including teachers. There was also an overnight sleep-in by protesters, and police said Thursday that the Capitol will be kept open around the clock.

Republicans hold a 19-14 edge in the Senate, but the chamber’s rules define the quorum needed to do business as 20 senators — hence, the unanimous Democratic run for the border.

Two protesters put up a sign at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., on Thursday, that reads "Run Dems Run" in support of 14 senators who fled the state. (Associated Press)
Two protesters put up a sign at the state Capitol in Madison, ... more >

State Sen. Mark Miller called into CNN on Thursday with a list of demands, saying Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders had to remove “provisions that completely eliminate the ability of workers … to negotiate on a fair basis with their employers.”

Mr. Miller did not tell CNN where he was. The Associated Press in Madison reported that all the Democratic lawmakers had left the state.

Via Twitter, state Sen. Lena Taylor said she was “doing the people’s business. Power to the PEOPLE.” On Thursday, Democrats in the Legislature’s lower house wore orange T-shirts with the slogan “fighting for working families” over their more formal shirts and dresses.

Mr. Walker called the walkout disrespectful of the democratic process and of the Legislature as an institution.

“Their actions by leaving the state and hiding from voting are disrespectful to the hundreds of thousands of public employees who showed up to work today and the millions of taxpayers they represent,” he said.

Many union supporters camped out with signs, filling several floors of the massive Statehouse Rotunda as most angrily demanded the ouster of newly elected Mr. Walker, who has been likened to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. A couple of demonstrators put a sign on the outside of the state Capitol encouraging the Democrats to flee the state: “Run Dems Run.”

The governor put the National Guard on alert this week, fearing a statewide government-worker walkout, which could affect such facilities as state prisons.

The measure, which had been greenlighted for votes in the state Assembly and state Senate after passage in committees on Wednesday, drew criticism from President Obama, who in a taped interview broadcast by a Milwaukee television station Thursday said it’s important for states not to vilify state employees amid budget crises.

“Some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like an assault on unions,” the president said.

The bill, which does not affect the union status of public safety workers such as the state police, is estimated to save the state $300 million over two years.

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