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Wisconsin gov. releases e-mails revealing union bill negotiations

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker addresses the media regarding a letter received from Sen. Mark Miller, D- Monona, on Monday, March 7, 2011 in Madison, Wis. Walker rejected a request from Democrats that he meet with them to talk about possible changes in his plan to eliminate union rights for most public workers.
AP-Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart
Scott Walker, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker addresses the media regarding a letter received from Sen. Mark Miller, D- Monona, on Monday, March 7, 2011 in Madison, Wis.
AP-Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart

As the dispute over union rights drags on in Wisconsin, lawmakers from both the left and the right are seeking media attention to prove their side is actively seeking a compromise. At the same time, both sides are pointing fingers, calling the other party out for grandstanding in front of the press.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker yesterday evening released a series of e-mails to prove he's tried to negotiate over union rights with "reasonable" Democratic state senators, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported. One of those "reasonable" senators, however, was quick to denounce the public release of the e-mails, suggesting it undermined their talks.

"I've never seen negotiations be done successfully in public," said Democratic state Sen. Bob Jauch. "I thought they were bargaining in good faith."

Jauch is one of two Democratic state senators who in recent days has met with the state Senate Majority Leader and Walker aides. He downplayed the meetings, pointing out they never reached a deal with the Republicans.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca is slated to meet with Walker this morning and asked Walker to open the meeting to the public, Wispolitics.com reports.

In a letter to Walker, Barca wrote that in their past meetings in recent weeks, "You have repeatedly stated for weeks that you will have 'zero flexibility' on the budget adjustment bill and would 'not budge.'"

Yesterday, Walker said he wants to negotiate with the state Senate Democrats who are holding up progress on his bill that would scale back union rights. Barca wrote their meeting today should be open "to ensure these are not simply hollow words."

However, Wispolitics.com reports, Walker's chief of staff Keith Gilkes responded in a letter that he is declining the request "on the governor's behalf to allow him to be used as a prop for your media grandstanding."

Both Democrats and Republicans in Wisconsin appear increasingly anxious to end the standoff over Walker's so-called "budget repair bill," which would scale back public workers' benefits, as well as their collective bargaining rights. Unions have already agreed to cutting their benefits, but they say eliminating most collective bargaining rights goes too far. Walker says that element of the bill is necessary to allow local governments to balance their budgets.

In order to stall a vote on the budget repair bill, all 14 Democratic state senators fled the state on Feb. 17, and it's unclear when they'll return.

Walker's office told the Journal Sentinel that the governor wants his "budget repair bill" to remain in tact but that the newly-released e-mails show compromises he'd be willing to make in later legislation.

Some of the possible compromises offered in the e-mails include: allowing public unions to bargain over certain economic issues like mandatory overtime or hazardous duty pay, and allowing for limited bargaining over workplace safety. Additionally, Walker's current proposal would only allow public unions to bargain for wage increases tied to inflation, but his e-mails suggest he could drop that requirement.

Union leaders are skeptical of the compromises, however.

"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," Rick Badger, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 40, said in a statement.