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Janesville City Council drafts letter supporting unions

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
February 17, 2011
— Four members of the Janesville City Council voted in a hastily called special meeting Wednesday to send a letter urging area legislators to retain local collective bargaining rights.

The four will ask President Kathy Voskuil, who was not at the meeting, to sign the letter. Voskuil said on Monday that she did not think the council was the proper venue to air members' opinions about Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to reduce collective bargaining rights.


Councilmen Tom McDonald, Yuri Rashkin, Russ Steeber and George Brunner attended the meeting Wednesday and voted to send the letter.


Councilman Frank Perrotto at Monday's regular meeting spoke against sending a letter, saying the council should not be a forum for political activism or be a venue to air partisan views. He said the governor is addressing tough issues that should have been addressed years ago.


"The fact that we (taxpayers) pay 100 percent of retirement benefits, quite frankly, that doesn't exist in the private arena anymore," he said.


The seventh council member, Bill Truman, said he could not get off work Wednesday. But he said at Monday's council meeting that he has great concerns about the legislation.


"When people's rights are being taken away, it's totally wrong," he said. "If he's starting here, where is he going to end? That's my real concern. Where is he going to end?"


The letter reads in part:


"Collective bargaining has long served the people of Wisconsin by allowing both management and workers to be on equal ground. It provides for both mediation and arbitration when agreements cannot be reached and has allowed both parties to enter into a contract that is both binding and mutually agreed upon.


"We realize that the state Legislature has been charged with reviewing and ratifying the contracts of state employees, however, we respectfully ask that the collective bargaining rights of local and municipal employees remain intact."


Steeber said he understands the state is in crisis, but he said it is "perfectly within" the council's rights to tell the state that it shouldn't intervene with bargaining with local unions.


Rashkin said it is "extremely relevant" for the council to speak up on these issues because the city's representatives in the Legislature seem to be "marching in lock step with their party leadership. It behooves us as elected officials to do something and speak up. We have our residents whose rights are being taken away in an extremely rushed form."


Brunner said Monday he is appalled by some of the things he's read and heard and wished he had more facts.


"That's the worst part, trying to figure out what kind of devastating impact this might have on the individual employees and their families—not only (from) an economical standpoint but also an emotional standpoint," he said.


"I think the city council has pretty much stood behind you over the years," he said, addressing city employees. "I hope we would continue to stand behind you and support you."



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