Hurrying to approve contracts for Madison workers before Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget repair bill can be enacted, the City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to extend a number of the city's collective bargaining agreements to the end of 2012.
The vote received loud applause and a standing ovation from most of the 175 people in the room, many of them union employees. Ninety-four people registered in support of the actions, with one opposed.
"These are interesting times that we are living in. They are also inspiring times," said Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, 12th District. "There are those who would divide us. And we will not be divided. We will show in the city of Madison how we can work together and how collective bargaining can work, and can work well, and can work to the benefit of everyone."
In a special meeting at the Overture Center, council members voted to ensure that members of the city's labor unions can continue to receive current pension and health benefits for the next two years. The measure delays the impact on city workers of a proposed state bill that would strip public workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who called the meeting, worried that if he waited until the council's next regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday it would be too late given the speed with which Walker intends to pass the bill. The state legislation would take precedence over city ordinance.
"It's important for us to act this evening and get this published before anything happens in the Legislature," Cieslewicz said.
The council also unanimously passed a symbolic resolution supporting Wisconsin workers and their rights to organize and collectively bargain.
Five of the city's 12 unions already had a contract through 2012; four had a contract through 2011; and three, including the police union, did not yet have an agreement in place.
The city has 3,530 employees. About 424 of them are not union-represented.
Ald. Julia Kerr, 13th District, pointed out that Walker ran his campaign with a slogan of being open for business. "It's extremely hard to be open for business if nobody is plowing your streets, and your streets aren't safe," she said.