Walker Defends State Worker Union Bill; Protests Today

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Audio: Governor Scott Walker on Newsradio 620 WTMJ with Jeff Wagner

MILWAUKEE - A political fight is heating up between state worker unions and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

UWM and the senate majority leader's home were two of the epicenters of the fight where protesters will gather over the governor's state worker union proposal.

Workers are fighting against a new bill that could take away their union's power to negotiate vacation, sick pay and other benefits.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO is launching a week of protests against Walker's plan to strip many public employees' ability to collectively bargain for those benefits.

Meanwhile, the governor is defending his budget plan.

Walker told Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jeff Wagner he's trying to get the state's fiscal house in order.

"The state's broke," said Walker.

He claimed that his proposal to have state workers contribute to their health and pension plans is modest and a way to avoid 1,500 layoffs.

"This is just the cleanest, best, long term way to not only balance this budget, but to do it in a way that balances future budgets."

Walker says his exemption of police and fire fighters has nothing to do with politics.

He says if workers would strike, he is ready to staff those positions through contingency plans, but he has no way to replace local emergency crews. 

Walker admits he hopes it doesn't come to that, but he says he is prepared for anything.

Rallies began Sunday outside Republican Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald's Home in Horicon.

Lawmakers were to take up the bill this week.

Workers look at the bill as an attack.

"We don't have a problem with concessions, but this is an all out attack on state employees," said State Corrections Officer Phil Briski.

The UWM rally happened Monday morning at Spaights Plaza, while another rally was scheduled to start outside State Senator Scott Fitzgerald's home at 4:30 p.m.

UWM professors do not belong to unions, but campus employees like custodians and admissions workers are represented.

"It would strip unions of all of its bargaining power, giving the state carte blanche to do whatever it wants," said Michael Maass, a UWM custodian.  "Usually, when the economy sours, the first thing they want to privatize is the lowest basic workrs, and custodians are usually among those.

"I can represent myself and my own true grit, rather than be represented by a union.  I think they served their purpose at one point in time, but I think unions' days are coming to an end," claimed Terry Maxwell, who supports the Walker plan.

Protesters also planned to deliver hundreds of valentines expressing their love for the University of Wisconsin System to Governor Walker's office.

Protesters gathered outside the Governor's mansion on Sunday to voice their opposition.

The AFL-CIO was to launch an all-out campaign against the Governor.  It was planning on running a series of TV and radio ads this week to attack his proposal.