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Walker Discussed Changes to Wisconsin Union Bill, E-Mails Show

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

March 9 (Bloomberg) -- Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s office released e-mails containing discussions with two Democratic senators about potential modifications to a bill seeking to curb collective bargaining for most public employees.

The senators decamped to Illinois last month to stall a vote on Walker’s so-called budget-repair measure, which incited protests across the U.S.

The governor on March 7 called Democratic Senator Mark Miller’s request to discuss a compromise face to face “ridiculous.” The e-mails to members of Miller’s caucus made public yesterday “demonstrate that the lines of communications have been open and negotiations have been ongoing for more than a week,” Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for the first-term Republican governor, said in an e-mailed statement.

Walker’s bill would limit negotiations to wages, not benefits or working conditions. Raises wouldn’t exceed inflation without voters’ consent, and workers’ contributions toward their health care and pensions would rise. Police and firefighters would be exempt.

E-mails from Deputy Chief of Staff Eric Schutt in the past week propose removing the limit on raises. Union members would be required to vote every three years on recertification instead of every year. Workers would be able to negotiate over workplace safety and the provision of protective equipment, the e-mails show.

They were first reported in an article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which had filed an open-records request on the matter. The senators involved were Senators Bob Jauch and Tim Cullen.

‘Drastically Limited’

The released documents show Walker is “willing to selectively leak e-mails he believes create the illusion he’s willing to make concessions,” Rick Badger, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 40, said in a statement. “The very few bargaining rights he uses to create the illusion he’s willing to compromise are still drastically limited, and the ability of unions to effectively bargain would still be eliminated entirely.”

Walker’s original proposal, which the Assembly passed on Feb. 25, has remained stalled in the Senate. The 33-member body cannot vote on the measure until at least one Democrat is present alongside the 19 Republicans.

Walker, 43, who with fellow Republicans swept to power in the November elections to dominate both chambers, has argued that the collective-bargaining bill will give governments flexibility to cut costs.

Last week he unveiled his proposed two-year spending plan, which seeks $3.4 billion in cuts and savings to help close a $3.6 billion gap.

To contact the reporter on this story: Esme E. Deprez in Madison, Wisconsin, at edeprez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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