Republicans who control the Senate had scheduled a vote on the bill Thursday morning. Debate was supposed to begin around midday, but the body's 14 Democrats never showed up. Without a quorum, Republicans could not vote.
Senate President Mike Ellis, a Neenah Republican, called an end to Thursday's floor session around 4:45 p.m. Republicans planned to return to the floor on Friday. It was unclear if Democrats would return for the Senate to take it up Friday.
The proposal, which has been described as the nation's most aggressive anti-union measure by some Capitol watchers, has been speeding through the Legislature. The bill cleared a major legislative hurdle on Wednesday night after the Joint Finance Committee passed the measure shortly before midnight. The legislation is now headed to votes in the Senate and Assembly.
The Wisconsin state Assembly said it won't be taking any action until at least Friday on Walker's proposal. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said the Assembly would not take any action on Thursday.
Lawmakers had planned for the Senate to pass the bill first followed by the Assembly.
The state Department of Administration estimated 20,000 people attended protests outside the state Capitol on Thursday, while 5,000 protesters filled the rotunda and hallways. While Democrats have been successfully in delaying action for at least a day, Republicans said they have the votes to pass it.
The move would mark a dramatic shift for Wisconsin. The state passed a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959 and was the birthplace of the national union representing all non-federal public employees.
The governor's proposal to end most collective bargaining for the majority of state employees set off a firestorm of opposition with rallies that attracted 13,000 people on Tuesday, 20,000 on Wednesday and thousands more on Thursday.
Most of the demonstrators on Thursday gathered in front of the state Senate chambers where lawmakers had planned to take up Walker's bill to end collective bargaining, except on issues of salary, for most public employees.
Walker has said the bill will help close Wisconsin's $137 million shortfall in the state's current budget and a projected $3.6 billion deficit in the next two-year budget. The governor introduced the idea last week.
Walker said it's needed to help balance the budget, but opponents said it's an unfair assault on middle-class workers.
Protesters remained at the Capitol on Thursday night after a day of unprecedented maneuvering and Capitol drama.
"It's been really incredible. It's been a really moving day I think," said Alexandra Fayen, a Madison social worker.
The crowd of thousands was galvanized by news that Democratic senators sided with them and left town, delaying a vote.
"(The news) all kind of filtered through from the balconies back to us. We got it through other people," Fayen said.
Assembly Democrats said they are backing their Senate colleagues but said they won't necessarily do the same.
"They want to take more time. They feel it is wrong what (the governor's) doing. I feel it is wrong what he's doing, to have this significant of a change for people's rights, in six days, I just think is egregious," said Democratic Rep. Peter Barca, Assembly minority leader.
Meanwhile, protesters said they're wondering what happens next.
"It was really exciting that they supported us and left, but it also makes me wonder what happens next. How long are we stuck here? When do we go back to work?" Fayen said.
As of Thursday afternoon, nine people have been arrested in the third day of widespread protests at the Wisconsin Capitol. The arrests come after two days of incident-free rallies and demonstrations, as protesters have remained mostly peaceful. State officials did not immediately return calls asking for details on the nine arrests.
Dane County Emergency Management is setting up a staging area for officers helping out at the Capitol. The Emergency Command Center is stationed at the Alliant Energy Center. It includes police officers from agencies throughout the county, including Middleton and Sun Prairie, who are setting up at the center and then being bussed to the Capitol Square.
Stay tuned to WISC-TV and Channel 3000 for continuing coverage.