US & Canada

US union protests: Wisconsin Democrats avoid police

Protesters sleep in the Wisconsin state capitol
Image caption Protesters have been spending the night in the Wisconsin capitol to keep pressure on Republicans

Democratic senators delaying a vote on an anti-union bill in the US state of Wisconsin have avoided police sent to find them.

Republicans sent state patrol officers to the homes of Democrats who have fled the state to deny the senate a quorum for a vote on the bill.

The Republican governor says the move to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights is needed to help balance the recession-hit state budget.

Union protests have hit several states.

Other Republican-led governments have moved to curtail unions by restricting their ability to organise and to raise money.

In Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels on Wednesday called union public sector workers - teachers, rubbish collectors, prison guards and others - "the privileged elite" and suggested their salaries had inappropriately grown while private sector pay had not.

After two weeks of protests, the Ohio Republican government is pushing a bill that would prohibit public workers from going on strike but would not forbid collective bargaining.

Persuaded to return

Meanwhile, Democrats in Wisconsin's Assembly, the lower house of the legislature, agreed early on Thursday to a deal that could limit debate on the anti-union bill and allow a vote later in the day.

Republicans hold majorities in both houses, and the bill was expected to pass the Assembly.

But 14 Democrats in the Senate remain in virtual hiding outside of the state, and until they return the Senate lacks a quorum for a vote. They say they will not return until Governor Scott Walker agrees to negotiate the terms of the bill.

Among other provisions, the bill would limit public workers' right to collective bargaining other than for base wages and require them to contribute more of their pay to their pensions and healthcare.

Mr Walker says the bill is needed to repair the state's $3.6bn (£2.23bn) budget deficit expected in the next two-year fiscal period.

But unions, who with their supporters remained massed at the state capitol for a ninth day on Thursday in protest against the bill, have agreed to the cuts to their compensation, and charge Mr Walker seeks to break the labour union movement in Wisconsin.

The police despatched by Senate Republicans on Thursday would not have arrested the Democrats, but the Republicans hoped the missing lawmakers could be persuaded to return.

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