The Wisconsin National Guard has not been activated but it is on alert.
"Plan for the worst, expect the best," Gov. Scott Walker explained to a jam-packed press conference this morning in the State Capitol.
It was the official roll-out of his broad rollback of collective bargaining rights for unionized government employees, part of his budget repair bill, seeking to resolve a $150 million shortfall in the next five months.
Walker said he was well aware that "some union leaders will try to incite their members."
The governor has contingency plans to take over the prisons, undoubtedly using the National Guard. Plans are also in place to staff intensive care facilities, should those employees walk out.
These contingency plans have been in the works "for months," Walker said this morning.
That is one reason local police and fire and the state patrol are exempt from the governor's far-reaching changes to collective bargaining by government employees in Wisconsin. He cannot account for local safety. Besides, he said, police and fire have a tradition of being treated different in practice and in statute
One of the provisions in his budget repair bill calls for the automatic dismissal of any employee with an unexcused absence of three days "or any employees participating in an organized action to stop or slow work if the governor has declared a state of emergency."
"I do expect the good and decent people who work for the State of Wisconsin to show up for work and do a great job," Walker said.
The governor's demeanor was firm and frank. Asked why he did not negotiate the changes with the union Walker gave two reasons:
- He has nothing to offer. "The state is broke."
- Contract negotiations have averaged 15 months in recent years. "We don't have that kind of time."
He cast the changes as a good deal for state employees in bad economic times, that the pension and health contributions are half the national average.
He said employees could offset the increases in pension and health insurance contributions by opting out of paying union dues. Indeed, his recommendations make it more difficult for the unions to collect dues.
He stressed that his package avoids layoffs or unpaid furloughs. "I don't want to see anyone being laid off in the state of Wisconsin."
But if the Legislature fails to act, "massive layoffs" will result. He put the number of state employees that would be laid off in such a situation at 6,000 over the course of the next biennium. More layoffs would result at the local government level, he said.
That put the onus on the Legislature to approve his plan. Many of them witnessed the press conference this morning, including Mark Pocan and Fred Risser.
He said he was elected to "be bold and aggressive." In the three months since his election - not even waiting to be inaugurated January 2 - Scott Walker has been that and more.
Push too hard and this governor could go for the complete union kill shot.