Wis. Democrats hide out in Illinois

February 21, 2011 9:15:18 AM PST
The battle over budget cuts and union rights between the governor of Wisconsin and state workers enters its second week.

Both sides are digging in and Democratic state senators are hiding out in Illinois to delay a vote.

Wisconsin Democrats holed up here in the Chicago area say they are not returning until Gov. Scott Walker agrees to compromise.

Democrats say the ball is now in Walker's court because state workers have agreed to give back enough money to balance the budget.

But Walker says he is not going to budge.

For Jon Erpenbach, it's another night in a hotel room.

"We'd rather be sleeping on our own beds tonight but it doesn't look like that's going to happen," said Wisconsin State Sen. Jon Erpenbach.

Erpenbach is one of 14 Democratic State Senators who fled Wisconsin to stop the vote on the budget bill.

"For all of us who left the state, we believe we are standing up for democracy," said State Sen. Julie Lassa.

"Democracy is not about hiding out in another state. It's about showing up here in the capital and making the case there," Walker said.

The Democrats say they are not coming back until Walker accepts the financial concessions state workers have agreed to give him in return for their right to collective bargain.

Erpenbach says between health care and pension benefits, employees are giving back an average of $4,500 a year, which he says enough to balance the budget.

"What people in Wisconsin don't like is that Governor Walker is out to destroy unions by getting rid of collecting bargaining, which is a basic right we have had in Wisconsin for a long, long time," Erpenbach said.

Union-busting is exactly what Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin says Walker is trying to do.

"This governor of Wisconsin is not setting out to fix a budget. He's setting out to break a union," Durbin said.

"We're willing to take this as long as it takes because in the end we are doing the right thing," Walker said.

Walker has a long history of fighting labor unions. He did so when he was the Milwaukee County Executive.

Organized labor also has a long history in Wisconsin. The first union was formed in 1847.

Wisconsin was the first in the country to enact workman's compensation and unemployment insurance.