In the end, it didn't matter how many Senate Democrats were around to vote on Gov. Scott Walker's union rights bill: It passed anyway.
The Wisconsin Senate, after performing a simple yet potentially explosive procedural move, voted to approve the part of the governor's "budget-repair bill" that had gotten the most publicity in the past few weeks a measure aimed at reducing the right of state workers to have access to collective bargaining, or the right to have unions negotiate on their behalf. Further, state workers cannot negotiate with employers for any wage increase above the inflation rate and must pay more toward their pensions and double the amount of their paycheck that goes toward health insurance (meaning that the state no longer has to pay as much).
The State Assembly had already passed the bill, but the measure had been stuck in the Senate because 14 Democratic Senators had refused to attend debates or votes on the bill, which had remained unpassed because even though the Republicans have a majority in the Senate, they don't have enough members to force a vote. So the fact that all 14 of the Democratic Senators had been sequestering themselves in a nearby state to avoid a vote meant that a vote could not take place on a bill that allocated money.
But Senate Republicans changed the bill. They removed the collective bargaining proposal from the allocations (spending) bill and voted on it separately, as a special committee of members of both state houses. Republicans made up all but one member of that special committee, and the vote was for approval.
Wisconsin has a $137 million budget deficit, and the state legislature is required by law to balance the budget. The union-focused element was part of an overall bill aimed at cutting spending statewide. Walker had said that the measure was necessary to avoid laying off up to 1,500 state workers.
In recent days, both sides tried to claim the upper hand. Walker had, at one point, ordered state troopers to the Senators' homes, presumably to escort the Senators bodily to the Senate chambers. The Senators were, of course, out of state at the time. Then, Walker had announced that layoff notices were imminent. Finally, Senate Republicans voted to begin fining the missing Senators $100 for each day that they missed.
Democrats had offered compromise legislation and implored the governor and his fellow Republicans to discuss modifications to the bill, saying that agreement on negotiations would result in the return of the Democrats to the Senate chambers. No agreement was reached.