Top leaders of two of Wisconsin's largest public employee unions announced they are willing to accept the financial concessions called for in Walker's plan, but will not accept the loss of collective bargaining rights.
Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, and Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24, said in a conference call with reporters that workers will do their fair share to narrow Wisconsin's budget gap.
Walker's plan calls for nearly all state, local and school employees to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care premiums. That would save $30 million by June 30 and $300 million over the next two years, the governor has said.
The measure also would prohibit most unionized public employees, except local police and fire fighters and the State Patrol, from bargaining on issues besides wages. Wage hikes could be negotiated only if they don't exceed the consumer price index.
"We want to say loud and clear — it is not about those concessions," Bell said. "For my members, it's about retaining a voice in their professions."
The two insisted their positions have not changed and Friday's call was intended to clarify their opposition to Walker's proposal. Bell, who represents 98,000 educators, and Beil, whose council includes 60,000 members, repeated calls for Walker to sit down with them.
Senate Democrats also reached out to Walker, sending him a letter urging him to remove the bargaining provisions from his bill.
But Walker repeated that he would not back down.