Appearing to blink first in a nearly three-week standoff with absent Senate Democrats, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker offered to keep certain collective bargaining rights in place for state workers in a proposed compromise, according to e-mails released Tuesday by his office.
But the e-mails weren't enough to end a stalemate that has drawn national attention and ignited a storm of protest from union workers and their supporters.
Sen. Bob Jauch, one of the 14 Democrats on the run in Illinois to block a vote on Walker's original proposal, said he hoped the compromise would serve as a blueprint for future negotiations. But he and Sen. Tim Cullen, who were both working with Walker's administration, said the latest offer was inadequate.
The e-mails, some dated as recently as Sunday, show a softened stance in Walker's talks with the 14 Democrats who object to his original proposal that would strip nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers and force concessions amounting to an average 8 percent pay cut. Republicans, who control the Senate, can't vote on the budget measure unless at least one Democrat is present.
Under the compromise floated by Walker and detailed in the e-mails, workers would be able to continue bargaining over their salaries with no limit, a change from his original plan that banned negotiated salary increases beyond inflation. He also proposed compromises allowing collective bargaining to stay in place on mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay and classroom size for teachers.
The increased contributions for health insurance and pension, which would save the state $330 million by mid-2013, would remain. The unions and Democrats have agreed to those concessions to help balance a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
The e-mails show that Jauch had wanted even more items to be subject to bargaining that Walker seeks to eliminate, including sick leave and vacation pay.
"I consider the lines of communication still open," Cullen said Tuesday. "Whether there's going to be any communicating, remains to be seen. These things ebb and flow."
Walker has repeatedly said that he would not budge on the key parts of the bill that's been stymied in the Senate after Democrats left 19 days ago. Since then, the pressure to deal has increased as protests reached as large as 80,000 people, polls show the public want a compromise and recall efforts were launched against 16 senators, including eight Republicans.
Some of the items in Walker's compromise plan could only be bargained if both sides agree to take them up. Workplace safety would be subjected to bargaining regardless.
Walker also proposed allowing collective bargaining agreements to last up to two years, instead of the one-year limit in his original proposal. Unions would only have to vote to remain in existence every three years, instead of annually as Walker initially proposed.
Additionally, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority employees would not lose all union bargaining rights and the Legislature's budget committee would have to vote to approve any changes to Medicaid programs sought by Walker's administration. Under the original bill, the Department of Health Services could make cuts and other changes to programs benefiting the poor, elderly and disabled without requiring a hearing or vote by the legislative committee.
Senate Republicans spent hours going over the compromise plan Tuesday morning in a closed-door meeting, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said. He acknowledged that pressure was increasing on the senators, saying the recall efforts launched against eight Republicans was "on everybody's minds."
"Everybody's obviously receiving a lot of pressure," Fitzgerald said. "I had people on my front porch before I left this morning."
He didn't say whether Senate Republicans agreed with the concessions Walker proposed on Sunday said support for the underlying bill remained strong.
"Were rock solid, we're fine," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.