Updated at 8 p.m. est
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took a shot this evening at wooing public employees and their supporters with sweet talk, but ultimately refused to blink on his demand that the workers give up their rights to negotiate union contracts, even amid signs momentum is shifting to the pro-labor forces.
"First, let me be clear: I have great respect for those who have chosen a career in government. I really do," Walker said in a televised address to the state embroiled in a mega-labor dispute with far-reaching implications.
The Tea Party-influenced GOP governor again threatened layoffs and asked absent Democratic senators to return to pass his controversial bill.
"The missing Senate Democrats must know that their failure to come to work will lead to dire consequences very soon. Failure to act on this budget repair bill means (at least) 1,500 state employees will be laid off before the end of June. If there is no agreement by July 1st, another 5 (thousand) to 6,000 state workers -- as well as 5 (thousand) to 6,000 local government employees would be also laid off," Walker said.
"But, there is a way to avoid these layoffs and other cuts. The 14 state senators who are staying outside of Wisconsin as we speak can come home and do their job. We are broke because time and time again politicians of both parties ran from the tough decisions and punted them down the road for another day," he said.
AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale said it was more of the same rhetoric for Walker, commenting on Twitter that he "was worried Walker might adjust his message since its polling so badly -- pretty psyched he didn't!”
Earlier, public employees and unions in Wisconsin said they have more cards to play in their effort to stave off Walker's attempt to roll back collective bargaining rights, bolstered in part by a new GQR poll that shows most people in Wisconsin support the workers and believe the governor has overplayed his hand.
Walker appears to be losing ground in particular since the unions agreed to pay more for health care and retirement, the polling data suggests.
Walker, reputed to be a frontman for the powerful multi-billionaire GOP financiers, the Koch Brothers, is bent on getting the workers to surrender their collective bargaining rights, making it difficult for him to argue successfully that he is more concerned with balancing the state budget than breaking the teachers and government workers unions.
There is some behind the scenes evidence that the more than week-long demonstrations in Madison are beginning to take their toll on a handful of GOP senators who were elected in districts that lean Democratic, sources said. Some of the senators have indicated in private conversations that they fear a backlash over Walker's steadfast refusal to negotiate.
"A lot of them won (in November) in this wave year in seats that are moderate Democratic. So further right (Walker) goes, making it a national story, endangers them," said a top labor source in Wisconsin.
The nomadic Democratic senators, who are on the run to avoid allowing Walker a final vote on the union-busting measure, are upbeat in part by the overwhelming financial support they are receiving through organizations raising thousands of dollars on their behalf.