As people gathered on the steps of the Capitol to honor their friend, leader and union brother, the murmur that made its way through the crowd went something like this:
"The timing sure is something, huh?"
Marty Beil, the longtime labor leader, died last week just as a new debate involving public employees in Wisconsin emerged. He was 68.
Beil retired in June after a storied career leading the the Wisconsin State Employees Union, which merged this year with the two other Wisconsin councils of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
He had served as the union's director for 30 years. A burly man sporting a snow-white beard, he was seen by many as the face of public employees during the bitter fight over Gov. Scott Walker's Act 10 legislation, which all but eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
The candlelight vigil in his honor was held just a few hours after the public hearing concluded for a bill that would overhaul the state's civil service system.
While the bill's authors say its aim is to strengthen the system and modernize the state's hiring practices, its critics view it as another step in a succession of attacks on public employees.
That's why Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee, chose Tuesday evening to announce his own bill — in effect, a counter-proposal to the one introduced by Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna.
Barnes' proposal, which will be circulated for co-sponsorship this week, would restructure the state's Division of Personnel Management into an Office of Civil Service. The office would be attached to the Department of Administration for administrative purposes.
Barnes' bill would also restructure the Bureau of Merit Recruitment and Selection as a division within the Office of Civil Service, and would create a Division of Labor Relations and a Division of Affirmative Action within the office.
Whether or not the name sticks, he's calling it "The Marty Bill."
"This isn't the time to play around," Barnes said in an interview. "Every time the governor says he wants to reform (something) it just means he wants to destroy it."
Walker has been a vocal supporter of the GOP bill to make changes to the existing civil service system.
The civil service system was established as a way to put qualified workers in state jobs and prevent political patronage, but advocates of the new proposal say the process has become too slow and outdated.
"We want to make sure a civil service system adopted in 1905 is ever strong in 2015, and 110 years after that," Roth said of his proposalTuesday morning, addressing the Senate Labor and Government Reform Committee.
Roth and supporters of the bill have said they're not attacking the system, they're just aiming to align it more closely with modern practices in the private sector.
Meanwhile, Democrats say the proposal would open the door for cronyism to run rampant in Wisconsin.
Barnes, as a member of the minority party, acknowledged the prospects for his bill are bleak, but he said there's no better time than now to start the conversation.
"People shouldn't have to lie down and take it," Barnes said. "We need to have something to fight for, not just something to fight against."
Read original article at The Cap Times.