* Won't compromise on plan to limit collective bargaining
* Thousands demonstrate, vast majority against proposal
* "We're willing to take this as long as it takes"-Walker
(Adds comments from teachers' union, West Virginia union)
By James Kelleher
MADISON, Wis., Feb 20 Wisconsin Governor Scott
Walker, whose bid to reduce public employee union bargaining
power has triggered mass public protests, said on Sunday he
expects the Democrats who oppose his plan will concede to
debate the issue early this week.
Fourteen state Democratic senators, who have left the state
to deny the Wisconsin legislature a quorum needed to consider
the controversial proposal, have "failed to do their jobs," the
Republican governor said on Fox Network's "Fox News Sunday."
"My hope is that cooler minds will prevail and by some time
earlier this coming week they'll show up for their job," Walker
said. "Democracy is not about hiding out in another state. It's
about showing up here in the capital and making the case there,
and for us, we're willing to take this as long as it takes."
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated last week against
Walker's proposed legislation, which supporters say is needed
to control state debt and spending and opponents contend would
break the back of state worker unions.
Despite cold temperatures and wet snow, opponents of the
proposal were planning a demonstration on Sunday in the state
capital, where local cab drivers and dispatchers were shoveling
snow to clear the way for the rally.
"If public sector workers don't have collective bargaining
rights, it will set the stage to attack private sector
workers," said John McNamara, Union Cab marketing manager.
"In the meantime, if the wages of these public workers, who
are the largest work force in this area, go down, it affects
us. These are our customers," he added.
Wisconsin is the flash-point for a U.S. struggle over
efforts to roll back pay, benefits and bargaining rights of
government workers. If the majority Republicans prevail, other
states could be emboldened to take on the powerful unions.
U.S. state and local governments are struggling to balance
budgets after the recession decimated their finances. In
addition to Wisconsin, other states like Texas, Arizona and
Ohio are relying mainly on cuts in spending to balance the
books, while Minnesota and Illinois are raising taxes.
Public sector workers in West Virginia, in support of the
Wisconsin protests, will rally to demand better pay and
improved working conditions, a union spokesman said on Sunday.
The Wisconsin State Assembly is due to take up the
proposals on Tuesday, after the Presidents Day holiday.
Republicans have a large enough majority to quorum in the
Assembly without the Democrats.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council, an umbrella
organization that represents some 98,000 public education
employees, was planning rallies for Monday and Tuesday.
"My hope is before Tuesday enough Republicans will
recognize this proposal is over-reaching and the support for
this proposal wanes. I've been told some Republicans will
reconsider," State Assemblyman and Minority Leader Peter Barca
said on Saturday.
Officials estimated about 55,000 demonstrators in the state
capital on Saturday, but no more than 5,000 appeared to be
there for a rally backed by Tea Party groups, the first
appearance by members of the limited-government movement.
Walker's proposal would make state workers contribute more
to health insurance and pensions. It also would end government
collection of union dues, let workers opt out of unions and
require unions to hold recertification votes every year.
Union and Democratic leaders say they are willing to
compromise on benefits if Republicans back off on their bid to
weaken collective bargaining, but so far Walker and his
legislative allies have stood firm.
Walker estimates the state budget deficit for the rest of
this fiscal year at $137 million and for the next two fiscal
years under its biannual budget at $3.3 billion.
Walker said the alternative is to lay off more than 10,000
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Peter Bohan and Philip Barbara)