Protests start for 6th day at Wis. Capitol

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — As union supporters moved inside for a sixth straight day of protests at the Wisconsin Capitol, Gov. Scott Walker reiterated Sunday that he wouldn’t compromise on the issue that had mobilized them, a bill that would eliminate most of public employees’ collective bargaining rights.

Democratic lawmakers have said they and union members would agree to financial concessions that the Republican governor wants in exchange for workers keeping their collective bargaining rights. But Walker said he wasn’t willing to budge, and he expected the bill to pass as is.

“We’re willing to take this as long as it takes because in the end we’re doing the right thing,” he told Fox News from Madison.

The controversial measure led to massive protests that started Tuesday and have gained steam each day. An estimated 68,000 people turned out Saturday. Most opposed the bill, but the day marked the first time that a significant contingent of Walker supporters showed up to counter-protest.

Hundreds of protesters gathered inside the Capitol on Sunday, as snow turned into freezing rain that made walking outside the building a challenge. The demonstrators banged on drums and danced in the Capitol Rotunda while they chanted, “This is what Democracy looks like” and “union busting!”

Jacob Cedillotootalian, a 27-year-old graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said Sunday was the third night that he slept in the Capitol as part of a union representing teaching assistants and he didn’t see an end coming any time soon. He said he was worried about paying more for his health insurance and tuition, but what kept him protesting was the possibility of losing the union.

“Normalcy would be nice,” Mr. Cedillotootalian, who teaches English, said, “but it seems the governor and the state Republicans are intent on taking these rights away.”

The bill would require government workers to contribute more to their health care and pension costs and would limit collective bargaining to pay increases less than the Consumer Price Index. Mr. Walker says the measure is needed to deal with the state’s projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.

Drenched in rain, former state Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke arrived Sunday to protest. A former state senator, Mr. Wineke said he was impressed by the 14 Democratic state senators who fled Wisconsin on Thursday to delay a vote on the bill. They remained gone over the weekend, leaving the Legislature one vote short of the number needed to take action.

“This thing is going to end badly for Scott Walker,” Mr. Wineke predicted. “He underestimated the resolve of the public.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Walker told Fox News he thought the Democratics would return to work early this week.

“Democracy means you show up and participate, and they failed to do that,” he said. “They’re walking out on their job.”

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview Sunday that the senators weren’t likely to come back until the governor was willing to compromise.

Mr. Erpenbach said he remained at a Chicago hotel and his colleagues were “scattered” out of state. They had a conference call Saturday night, and Mr. Erpenbach said they remained united in their effort to stall the bill.

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