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Bill would extend bargaining restrictions to police, firefighters

A bill was quietly introduced Tuesday that would expand on Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to strip most collective bargaining rights from public employees by extending bargaining restrictions to police and firefighters.

"We're not surprised a bill has been introduced to bring us in," said Mahlon Mitchell, state president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, on Thursday. "We've been hearing rumors this would be done since Walker first introduced his plan in February."

Unlike Walker's proposal, Assembly Bill 127, introduced by Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc, would only prevent public safety employees from negotiating over pension and health-care contributions. Ziegelbauer's bill would allow local governments to determine these contribution levels.

Ziegelbauer, the Legislature's only independent, voted for Walker's proposal and said he still supports it.

Ziegelbauer, also executive of Manitowoc County, said it is "disruptive to have a two-tier system in the public sector that treats its employees differently."

Unlike Walker's proposal, Ziegelbauer's bill maintains the ability of public safety unions to bargain over work conditions, as well as maintain their rights to deduct union dues from the payroll and would not require union members to vote annually on whether to recertify their unions. While Mitchell called the ability to keep those bargaining rights "huge," he said public safety unions remain committed to standing in solidarity with other public sector unions.

"We are standing against the bills in their entirety, Walker's and Ziegelbauer's," Mitchell said. "We are against all union-busting legislation."

On Thursday, Ziegelbauer described his bill as a "softer approach" that still addresses the need to realign public employee compensation in Wisconsin.

"It doesn't disregard collective bargaining," Ziegelbauer said. "It just peels back collective bargaining in two key areas ... health care and pension contributions and leaves the rest of their bargaining rights intact."

Walker's proposal, which was introduced Feb. 11 in the budget repair bill, was approved by the Legislature. Because one step of the approval process involved a hastily called meeting, it was challenged on the grounds it violated the state's open meetings law. The case is pending in court, preventing the law from taking effect.

No one has signed on as a co-sponsor to Ziegelbauer's bill, a sign it may not have much steam moving ahead.

Members of the Legislature were in session until late Wednesday night, so an attempt to reach someone in Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald's office for comment Thursday morning was not successful.

It is the Assembly Speaker's responsibility to decide which bills are introduced in the Legislature.

"I don't expect a parade from police and fire for introducing this bill," Ziegelbauer said.