* Republicans pressure Democrats who fled the state
* Indiana, Ohio, Iowa Republicans also target unions
* Labor groups plan national protests on Saturday
(Recasts, incorporates similar efforts in other states)
By James Kelleher
MADISON, Wis., Feb 25 Wisconsin Republicans
raised the pressure on Friday on absent Democrats to return
home and vote on a measure to curb the power of public sector
unions which has inspired similar efforts in other states and
sparked labor protests across the United States.
Fresh from a first round victory overnight, when the state
Assembly passed the union bill along party lines, Republicans
turned to trying to break a Democratic boycott of the Senate.
Undaunted by the setback in the Assembly, U.S. labor groups
planned large demonstrations in Madison and in every state
capital in the nation on Saturday to fight the proposal they
see as trying to break the union movement.
What began two weeks ago as Republicans in one relatively
small U.S. state trying to balance the budget by rewriting
local labor relations rules has turned into a major national
confrontation between Republicans and business interests on one
side, and the Democrats backed by union groups on the other.
For more U.S. budget, deficit fights [ID:nN11152338]
FACTBOX on Wisconsin proposal [ID:nN21220065]
In Ohio, a bill that would terminate collective bargaining
rights for state workers likely will be softened by amendments
before it comes to a vote next week, an Ohio Senate Democrat
said on Friday. "I believe it will definitely be less
draconian, it will definitely be softer," said Joe Schiavoni.
And in Indiana, Democratic lawmakers have also left the
state to deny Republicans a quorum, refusing to vote on
Republican-backed bills that restrict worker rights.
The stakes are high for labor because more than a third of
public employees including teachers, police and civil service
workers belong to unions. Only about six percent of private
sector workers are unionized.
Thousands huddled beneath umbrellas in the rain in New
Jersey's state capital of Trenton on Friday to hear AFL-CIO
president Richard Trumka point out the significance of the
standoff. "What happens in Wisconsin affects every man, woman
and child in America. Nothing less than the fate of our middle
class is at stake," Trumka told the demonstrators.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, champion of the union
restrictions, said Democrats who have boycotted the state
Senate "need to come home and do their jobs, just like the
Assembly Democrats did," Walker said in a statement.
The conservative Club for Growth began airing ads in the
districts of Democrats accusing them of playing "Russian
roulette" with the jobs of thousands of Wisconsin workers.
Republicans hold a 19-14 Senate majority but need a quorum
of 20 to vote on spending bills. All the Democrats left the
state for Illinois last Thursday because they feared they could
be compelled to attend the Senate if they remained.
Wisconsin Republicans admit they lack the legal authority
to force the Democrats back to the state.
In Iowa, a bill curbing collective bargaining rights for
public workers passed a House committee early Friday morning,
after an all-night attempt by Democrats to block the vote.
DEBT RESTRUCTURING ON HOLD
The stalemate meant Walker missed a self-imposed Friday
deadline for bill approval so Wisconsin could proceed to
restructure its debt. The state needed new authority in the
proposed law in order to move ahead.
Wisconsin will not be able to go to the bond market on
Monday as scheduled to price that debt, Frank Hoadley,
Wisconsin's capital finance director, told Reuters on Friday.
Walker has also threatened to send layoff notices to many
workers in state agencies if the stalemate continues.
The proposal would make state workers contribute more to
health insurance and pensions, end government collection of
union dues, let workers opt out of unions and require unions to
hold recertification votes every year.
Collective bargaining would be allowed only on wage
increases up to the rate of inflation.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mayers and Andy Stern; Writing
by Greg McCune; Editing by Jerry Norton and Todd Eastham)