Before their session ends, the Democrats in the Wisconsin Legislature are attempting to approve labor contracts for unions in a special session in December.
Gov. Jim Doyle reached a tentative labor contract with six labor unions this month, despite requests from Gov.-elect Scott Walker that Doyle refrain from making contract agreements in the final six weeks of his tenure as governor.
The labor contracts would apply to state workers, who have not had a new contract since July 1, 2009, and the current contract agreement between the state legislature and unions ends on June 20, 2010.
Although the contracts have not been released to the public, Assembly Speaker Rep. Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, believes the Democrats will make every effort to get the contracts through, said Rebekah Sweeny, spokesperson for Sheridan.
However, some legislators are unsure of whether they should support the union labor contracts because they have not been able to review them.
“The problem is nobody in the Legislature has seen these contracts, so nobody knows what is in them,” Jim Bender, spokesperson for Minority Leader Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said.
The Democrats are racing through at the end of the year trying to get something done, which is not really the way to do it, Bender added.
Since Democrats appear to be in a hurry to pass this legislation, Republicans are wary of passing the union labor contracts.
“[Rep. Fitzgerald] has said before that anytime Doyle wants to get something done quickly, it makes Republicans nervous,” Bender said.
The Legislature technically adjourned in April, but legislative leaders and the governor have the power to call the Legislature back into session to discuss an issue, according to Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.
Legislators need to have a quorum, or 60 percent of the legislative body in agreement, to go back into session to discuss an issue, Heck said.
The Legislature has not switched from one party holding the majority vote to the other party snagging the majority in the following session since the 1950s, Heck said, so Democrats may feel pressure to pass the union labor contracts before the end of this session.
While the Democrats are in a hurry to pass the labor contracts before their session ends, there is doubt whether they will be successful at calling a special session.
“I can’t imagine that Russ Decker or Mike Sheridan would even talk about calling in a special session if they did not think they had enough votes to pass the contract,” Heck said.
Kristin Ruesch, a spokesperson for the state Republican party, said the GOP agrees with Walker’s requests that Doyle refrain from activities that might make it harder for Walker to deal with the budget, such as contracts.
“The government in place right now is a lame-duck government the public has chosen to replace with new leaders. As the budget situation is evaluated, our new leaders should be the ones setting policy and signing contracts,” Ruesch said in an e-mail.
Ruesch added the public that elected the new Republican majority in both chambers of the state Legislature will put pressure on Democrats to meet Walker’s requests to wait to approve union contracts until the budget can be assessed.