MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker warned on Thursday that unless the state legislature approves a plan to reduce the power of public sector unions he will soon begin preparing layoff notices to state workers.
Speaking to reporters during a tour of the state, Walker stepped up the pressure on 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats who have left the state to prevent a vote quorum for the union measure.
“If we fail to have the Senate Democrats come back and we fail to achieve those savings, we have to start preparing (layoff) notices by the end of this week,” Walker said.
The notices could affect some 1,500 workers who would be let go in order to achieve savings to balance the budget in fiscal 2011, Walker has said.
Walker’s statement increased the stakes in a bitter battle between Wisconsin Republicans, and Democrats supported by organized labor.
Walker’s proposal -- to strip public sector unions of most collective bargaining rights and force them to take a vote of membership every year to continue to exist -- has sparked mass protests and a national debate on labor relations.
His proposal was approved by the state Assembly but remains stalled by the Democratic exodus from the Senate.
Labor unions and their supporters fear the anti-union measures could be adopted in other states, dealing the biggest blow to the labor movement since then-president Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981.
Ohio on Wednesday advanced a proposal to curtail unions and several other states are considering similar measures.
Absent Senate Democrats in Wisconsin said they are in talks with the majority Republicans about possible compromises to end a stalemate over a bill, but no deal has been reached.
Republicans on Thursday passed a resolution in the Senate that would compel the Democrats’ return to Madison, and authorizes the missing senators be taken into custody if they are found in the state.
Republicans admit they have no way of enforcing the resolution.
They have also agreed to levy a $100-a-day fine on absent senators.
One of the boycotting Senate Democrats told Reuters in an interview on Thursday he remains hopeful a compromise will be reached.
“We are dealing with a matter of principle here, a matter of people’s rights, and so we remain hopeful that as a consequence of our talks with Senate Republicans that there is some middle ground,” state Senator Jim Holperin said.
Reporting by Jeff Mayers and David Bailey; Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Greg McCune