Madison schools will close Wednesday due to ‘excessive staff absences’

From Wisconsin State JournalMadison school district officials have canceled school Wednesday.

“Due to substantial concerns of excessive staff absences, the Madison School District is forced to close all of our schools to students on Wednesday, February 16, 2011,” according to an e-mail from the Madison School District sent at 11 p.m. Tuesday. “We regret having to make this decision, but with the significant percentage of staff members reporting absences for Wednesday we can not assure the safety of all students.” Read more of this post

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Thousands gather at Capitol to protest Walker budget bill

From Wisconsin State Journal

In one of the largest protests in recent memory, thousands of angry union supporters gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday to oppose a bill by Gov. Scott Walker that would greatly weaken organized labor in Wisconsin. Read more of this post

Packers Support Wis. Public Employees

From AFL-CIO Now blog

Members of the reigning Super Bowl champs have come out in strong support of the state’s public employees and in opposition to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on the state’s public servants, which include threats to call out the National Guard if they strike or protest his extreme measures.

In a statement issued moments ago, current and former members of the Green Bay Packers say it’s “teamwork on and off the field that makes the Packers and Wisconsin great.”

It is the same dedication of our public workers every day that makes Wisconsin run.  They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families.  But now in an unprecedented political attack, Gov. Walker is trying to take away their right to have a voice and bargain at work.

Further, the letter points out that “the right to negotiate wages and benefits is a fundamental underpinning of our middle class.

When workers join together it serves as a check on corporate power and helps ALL workers by raising community standards.  Wisconsin’s long standing tradition of allowing public-sector workers to have a voice on the job has worked for the state since the 1930s.  It has created greater consistency in the relationship between labor and management and a shared approach to public work.

These public workers are Wisconsin’s champions every single day and we urge the governor and the state legislature to not take away their rights.

Signers of the statement include: Curtis Fuller, Charles Jordan, Bob Long, Steve Okoniewski, Brady Poppinga, Jason Spitz and Chris Jackie.

Go, Cheeseheads!

Walker’s budget roils state politics and government

From River Towns

Protests across southern Wisconsin are reported Monday in the wake of the budget proposal offered by Gov. Scott Walker as interested parties from labor, the University of Wisconsin and the state Legislature weighed in and studied their options. A public hearing before Joint Finance is schedule for today.

Here are several news updates on the budget situation from Monday and Tuesday:

Stoughton students walk out

About 100 high school students in Stoughton walked out of class Monday to support their teachers who are trying to hang onto their union bargaining rights.

Junior Theron Luhn helped organize the protest. He said, “Let’s show Gov. Walker that we care about learning, and the teachers are worth every cent that we pay to them.”

Walker wants public employee unions throughout the state to drop all of their bargaining rights except for pay raises at or below inflation. He also wants them to pay more toward their pensions and health insurance.

The proposal applies to teacher unions but not to local police and fire unions.

There are reports that Walker will propose a reduction of state aid to public schools and local governments in his next state budget in exchange for more flexibility in bringing down labor costs.

At Sun Prairie High School, about 10 students cheered for teachers as they walked in the door Monday morning. Madison East High School students plan a protest march to the State Capitol Tuesday.

The Wisconsin State Journal says there’s a Facebook group started by Platteville students calling for a statewide student walkout today (Tuesday).

State Public School Superintendent Tony Evers wrote to legislative leaders asking them to reject the Walker budget plan.

——–

UW students, teachers protest

Students and teachers from UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee held protest rallies against Gov. Walker’s plans for public employee unions.

In Madison hundreds of people chanted “Kill this bill” as they filled the hallway leading to Walker’s office. They poured valentines on the desk of an office guard, asking the governor not to break their hearts. They chanted and stomped on the floor for a few minutes then left without incident.

At UW-Milwaukee, one protestor carried a sign asking, “Did Wisconsin elect a king?”

Meanwhile unions banded together to hold a news conference to condemn the governor’s plans to strip most unions of most of their bargaining power and to make them pay more for their pensions and health insurance.

Lyle Balistreri of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades union said the governor wants to create jobs.

“We can do that if we work together,” said Balistreri.

Walker went on fellow conservative Jeff Wagner’s show Monday morning on WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee to emphasize that public union workers would still have their civil service protections. Both Walker and Wagner said those protections are much better that what employees in the private sector get.

———

National Guard might be used if guards strike

Gov. Walker’s office says the National Guard would only be used to run the prisons in the event that guards walk out to protest cuts in union bargaining.

Some of Walker’s political opponents say they’re concerned that Guard troops would be used to keep protestors in check.

Scot Ross of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now said no governor has used the military against public employees as far back as the 1930’s. He said current events show “just how radical the steps are that Gov. Walker is taking to consolidate his power.”

But Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the Republican has never talked about using the Guard for anything more than running the prisons if need be ,and he reiterated that stance Monday.

Former Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration had talked about having the Guard run the prisons back in 2003 when hundreds of guards called in sick to protest delays in approving their contracts.

———

Lead lawmakers make no predictions

Legislative leaders are making no predictions on the fate of their Governor’s plan to slash benefits and bargaining powers for public unions.

John Jagler, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, said members are still reviewing the measure. But he said things are “looking good” for passage.

The Assembly has a sizable 58% GOP majority. But Gov. Walker’s plan would fail in the Senate if just three Republicans don’t follow the party line.

Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, refused to say whether the plan has enough votes to pass yet.

Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said Republicans have been unusually quiet in recent days, and unlike their reaction to the rest of Walker’s proposals, they’re noncommittal about the budget package.

Some Republicans are speaking out. Joint Finance Co-chairman Rep. Robin Vos said the measure is “exactly what Wisconsin needs.” Sen. Glenn Grothman of West Bend said it does not go far enough.

Walker’s bill would strip public unions of most bargaining power except for wages that don’t exceed the rate of inflation. Local police and fire unions would be exempt. Employees would also have to pay more towards their pensions and health insurance.

———

Unions may accept pay cut but not limits on bargaining

State union workers say they’re willing to swallow the 8% compensation cut that Gov. Walker wants them to take to balance the budget. But they won’t stand for Walker’s plan to limit their bargaining power to pay raises at or below inflation.

Public unions held more demonstrations Monday at the Capitol, some UW campuses and at the homes of lawmakers who could vote on the plan later this week. Those legislators have been flooded with phone calls and e-mails from workers and others on both sides of the issue.

Thousands are expected today (Tuesday) at a public hearing to be held by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

Union contract negotiator Willy Haus said Walker might have reached the amount he wanted in concessions more easily had he negotiated with the workers, but he chose not to. Haus said the governor wants to bust the unions, and he called it a “hate crime.”

Walker told reporters the bargaining limits are designed to give public sector workers more of a choice in deciding whether to belong to a union.

Also, about 1,500 limited-term state employees would lose their health care and pension benefits. DNR assistant ecologist James Christopolous is one of those limited-term workers. He says those who can least afford it are being hit the hardest.

———

Regents ask for more flexibility

The UW-System Board of Regents is asking Gov. Walker to approve changes in state statutes to allow the university system greater flexibility in managing its budget.

But not all the regents are convinced the changes will lead to financial stability for UW.

Achieving the flexibility the regents want would require changing 20 different statutes that now regulate how state funds are allocated. It would also give each campus more control over setting tuition costs.

The biggest change would be requiring the legislature to approve one block grant for the entire UW System and allowing the regents to divide it up among the campuses to use as they see fit.

Speaking in favor of this approach, UW-Whitewater Chancellor Richard Telfer said it took his campus ten years to build a building following complicated state procedures but only ten months to build a recent new building funded by a city block grant.

Another change the regents want would allow the university system to float its own revenue bonds to finance building and land purchases. But Regent Tom Loftus doesn’t think that’s workable because it would make each campus responsible for repaying the bonds.

———

State agencies watching attendance

State agency bosses started keeping a close eye on attendance amid fears that union workers will conduct work stoppages.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Walker administration wants daily attendance and work reports similar to what would be required during a flu pandemic.

State union leaders have emphasized that they won’t strike, slow down their work or hold sick-ins in response to Gov. Walker’s proposed cuts in union benefits and bargaining power.

But the Journal Sentinel obtained an e-mail from Deputy Transportation Secretary Mike Berg which told his department leaders to report by 10 a.m. each day on the percentages of employees not reporting to work. They must also say whether key functions cannot be performed, and if the DOT will need help from other agencies to do its job. Berg noted that the reports are required by the Administration Department.

Meanwhile, the Journal-Sentinel says security has also been beefed up at the State Capitol and Department of Natural Resources wardens are helping Capitol Police with their patrols.

On Friday, Walker said he would deploy the National Guard if necessary to make sure vital state functions continue.

———

Walker gets ‘Heartless Award

Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act would be scaled back under Gov. alker’s budget repair bill, and a coalition of employee groups are giving Walker what they called their “Heartless Award.”

Under Walker’s bill, employees who work less than 25 hours a week would lose their access to family leave. And workers might have to take unpaid leave instead of accrued sick leave time to care for loved ones after family health emergencies and child births.

Amy Spear of the 9 to 5 Working Women’s group said employees in the Badger State are already stretched. She said the Republican governor should, “stop his attack on families.”

Wisconsin was among the first states to pass a Family and Medical Leave Act in 1988 under former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. It gives greater flexibility than a similar law at the federal level. It also makes more workers eligible.

The proposed cuts are part of Walker’s solution to make up for a $137 million shortfall in state revenues in the current state budget.

Veterans Object to Governor’s Threatened Use of National Guard in Union Dispute

From Vote Vets

MADISON, WI – Veterans are strongly objecting to Governor Scott Walker’s inappropriate threat to activate the National Guard to intimidate state workers, as his administration moves forward with plans to break up workers’ unions.

“Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet – but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent,” said Robin Eckstein, a former Wisconsin National Guard member, Iraq War Veteran from Appleton, WI, and member of VoteVets.org.  “The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents.  Considering many veterans and Guard members are union members, it’s even more inappropriate to use the Guard in this way.  This is a very dangerous line the Governor is about to cross.”

According to news reports last week and over the weekend, Governor Walker threatened to mobilize the Wisconsin National Guard to keep any state workers from protesting anti-worker, anti-union proposals he is pushing through the legislature.  Included in that proposal is a plan to enact so-called “Right to Work” laws, which would weaken state unions’ ability to negotiate.

Founded in 2006,  and backed by over 100,000 members, the mission of VoteVets.org is to use public issue campaigns and direct outreach to lawmakers to ensure that troops abroad have what they need to complete their missions, and receive the care they deserve when they get home.  VoteVets.org also recognizes veterans as a vital part of the fabric of our country and will work to protect veterans’ interests in their day-to-day lives.   VoteVets.org is committed to the destruction of terror networks around the world – with force when necessary – to protect America.  While non-partisan, the group is the largest progressive organization of veterans in America.

Wisconsin: war declared on state workers

From Libcom

The Governor of the State of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has just dropped the anvil on public sector workers statewide. This is the start of a nationwide offensive to wipe out public sector unions.

The state are going bankrupt and slipping into default because they refuse to increase revenue from the only potential source left to collect from, income taxes. The answer to this probably is popularly portrayed as needing necessary cuts to state, county and municipal workers pay, health insurance, and pensions. Ultimately the right to collectively bargain will be legally restricted to pay alone, while no pay increases beyond the Consumer Price Index adjusted inflation measure (which is a hedonically weighted fraud that doesn’t reflect real price inflation). State workers are asked to contribute between 17% to 18% out of their paychecks to health insurance and pensions–amounting to a massive pay cut. Pay will be frozen for the next three years. University employees would lose the right to form unions. Some 170,000 state, county and municipal workers stand to be affected by this move. AFSCME was born among state sector workers in Wisconsin, to crush the union would be a feather in the cap for the state bosses and could effectively bring about the eventual deaths of all state sector unions nationwide. This will hit teachers hard as well. Further unionization in the state sector would be against the law. Unions stand to lose automatic dues check off that comes out of all workers checks in areas where their union negotiated their work contracts. This could amount to a quarter to a third of all dues payers being off the rolls. This situation is one faced by state workers in Ohio, Florida and around the country, even around the world. The threat to call out the army in this situation is probably not simply a bluff.

The unions already negotiated a deal with the previous administration for $100 million in cuts to benefits along with an outright 3% pay reduction. The Governor was looking for much more than this and could’ve bargained much more from the unions than they offered in their first offer. He has threatened to call out the National Guard to take over the entire state sector in the event of a strike, which is not likely because state sector workers haven’t ever technically had a right to strike and will not be able to go on strike, even if they wanted to. If the state prison guards go on strike, he will have the army come and they will start running the state prisons.

In 1971 when unions got their collective bargaining agreements legislated along with a no strike clause. This was legislated into state law and has been the basis of peace among state sector workers for forty years. This agreement is gone. The best the unions can do is call for a two day protest followed by lobbying of state legislators. There has been a move to recall election of the Governor as well, this is largely just a protest and stands no chance of gaining an actual recall vote. Unions have planned protests in the coming week. The unions will protest this but there is little they can do.

Over the years the State of Wisconsin has farmed out all custodial work to private custodial services that heavily exploit immigrant labor. Thousands of positions have gone unfilled for years. Almost every time a worker with seniority retires a job is eliminated permanently. Office functions have been distributed into a hub system where different branches of educational and government functionaries have been combined into one single support staff.

The current hiring freeze has been in effect for years now and followed a hiring freeze in the 1990s. The use of temporary workers and “limited term employees” has increased alongside the privatization schemes, hiring freezes, and cuts. The previous Governor introduced furlough days that amounted to a three-week unpaid leave (a rolling layoff) for all state employees. On the same token, the legislators voted themselves a 4% pay raise.

Workers here in Madison are asking their unions “when will we go on strike”, and many are more than ready to do so, most workers don’t realize that there is no “right” to strike here for any government employees. The right to form a union was allowed because of legislation that precluded strike activity and gave collective bargaining and grievance procedures.

Only the police, and firefighters unions were spared from this because they supported the Governor’s election bid and were rewarded accordingly. The election bid for Wisconsin governor was typical for capitalist elections. It was bought and paid for by the likes of the billionaire Koch brothers, who have most likely never so much as stepped foot in Wisconsin. So the bourgeoisie elected itself an idiot “businessman” who was given his position at his company by his wife who was the daughter of the founder. The police and firefighters will get cut sooner or later it is only a matter of time, for now their support is useful to the administration in helping to divide and crush the other unions. Without raising revenue, belt-tightening will only beget more belt-tightening. That’s the operating idea in order to eliminate the costs associated with variable capital in the state sector.

Students in the state are facing a “Badger Partnership Plan” put forward by the state university administration that aims at increasing their tuition by removing caps on tuition increases. It also aims at eliminating requirements to allot seats for students from Wisconsin to attend their own flagship university. It further seeks to cement the deep relationship between corporate donors and the University’s corporate research business.

The State teachers union WEAC has recently given its approval to plans to cut up the Milwaukee Public School district, destroy teacher seniority pay, and introduce “merit pay” determined by administrators who have no real knowledge of what it takes to actually do the work (most ed “reformers” are talking out their asses of course). Either you spend $15,000 to $20,000 per pupil per year or you get what you pay for–a bad education. Milwaukee spends about $12,000 per pupil or less. We have African-American “leaders” in the Urban League stumping for schools segregated by race and sex, in effect supporting a new “separate but equal doctrine” of re-segregation of public schools under the guise of “reform”. Milwaukee was a laboratory of reactionary experiments in education such as school voucher programs so that parents could take their students out of Milwaukee schools and get a voucher from the city to pay for their children’s private school educations. This bled yet more needed funding as well as skimming high performing students out of the public schools that affect the test based performance school funding schemes. The AFT, called WEAC here in Wisconsin support these schemes that attack teachers, so school employees cannot rely on them to wage any serious struggle against these attacks.

Taxes in Wisconsin consist of cigarette taxes, alcohol taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, the “Lottery” (taking money from chumps suckered into the dream of “winning”) and many similar punitive anti-worker revenue collection measures. The Federal government has long starved the states of funding for those things the federal government has asked the states to do. This in turn has accelerated the bankruptcy of the states. The state-capitalists here are using bankruptcy to shed themselves of expensive pension benefits, just as was done to autoworkers in the “private sector”. The states’ bond ratings are heavily based upon the state regimes willingness to attack state workers. The refusal of the executive branch in Washington DC, under Clinton, Bush and Obama, has created this situation by refusing to give any aid to the states at all while giving the last of everything to the military and the security apparatus.

Wisconsin May Take an Ax to State Workers’ Benefits and Their Unions

From New York Times

Citing Wisconsin’s gaping budget shortfall for this year and even larger ones expected in the years ahead, Gov. Scott Walker proposed a sweeping plan on Friday to cut benefits for public employees in the state and to take away most of their unions’ ability to bargain. Read more of this post