In a dramatic, 30-minute legislative procedure that caught their Democratic opponents entirely off-guard, Wisconsin Senate Republicans passed a Bill on Wednesday that pared back the rights of unions to negotiate pay rises to historically low levels and swiftly ended a hard-fought political battle to prevent a the erosion of their collective bargaining power.
While recent weeks had seen Wisconsin Democrats fleeing the State to avoid the necessary quorum for the passage of the bill, Republicans led by Governor Scott Walker got around that manoeuvre by detaching the financial clauses of the Bill, a move that made it possible to pass the Bill without the quorum.
The passage of the so-called Budget Repair Bill, aimed at curbing the State's out-of-control anticipated budget deficit according to Mr. Walker, will now force public sector workers to accept the equivalent of an eight-per-cent pay cut in the form of increased payments to pension and health schemes.
Reacting to the move, leader of the Senate Democrats Mark Miller was quoted as saying: “Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten.”
The Guardian quoted Mr. Miller as saying, “Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people. We will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government.”
Following the proposal to pass it in the Senate, protestors from across the State had taken over the Capitol building in Madison. Democratic leaders then decamped for other States such as Illinois in a bid to stave off the Bill's passage.
This week's developments, however, may seal the fate of public sector workers in other States too, where the trend towards curtailing union rights has been bolstered by growing Tea-Party-based fiscal conservatism and broader rightwing agendas.