Photo: Teresa Vilmain
By Cynthia McCabe
Wisconsin’s General Assembly passed legislation largely stripping public employees’ rights to organize and have a voice in their employment condition in an early-morning vote today, a move that spurred an estimated 70,000 to rally at the statehouse in Madison.
Rallies occurred across the country, with more than 3,000 gathering in New Jersey, 1,000 in Lansing, Mich., 500 in Helena, Mont., 2,000 in Harrisburg, Pa., 2,000 in Columbus, Ohio, and 1,000 in Denver.
The president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council said that although Friday’s Assembly vote was expected, she was deeply disappointed by their approval for Gov. Scott Walker’s damaging so-called budget repair bill.
“The damage this bill would do to our schools is devastating,” said Mary Bell, calling on the state’s senators to show leadership and vote against a bill stripping educators and other public employees of their collective bargaining rights. “We are part of our communities and our schools, and this strips our right to be a voice for our students.”
Also Friday, the union that represents NBA players voiced their support for the rallying workers.
“Last night’s vote by the Wisconsin Assembly was an attempt to undermine organized labor and the men and women across the country who depend on their unions for a voice in the workplace,” said Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association. “The NBPA proudly supports our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin and their stand for unequivocal collective bargaining rights.”
Today’s rally marked the 12th day of major action in Madison and beyond by protesters of Walker’s plan. Local events also occurred in Green Bay, Eau Claire, Appleton, Oshkosh, Waupaca, Elkhorn, Milwaukee, Platteville, Racine and Kenosha. (Get detailed information about the Wisconsin rallies on the WEAC website.)
Rallies of support for the rights of those in Wisconsin and all American workers are happening nationwide this weekend. Moveon.org has a complete list of “Rallies to Save the American Dream,” searchable by zip code.
Those unable to attend the rally in Madison today can still send support, by way of takeout delivery. Madison-area business Badgerbites.com has arranged with several restaurants to deliver food to the protesters when donors head to their website and indicate that’s where they want a delivery to go.
They may be delivering a lot of pizza. In a USA Today/Gallup poll released this week about the situation in Wisconsin and other states, 61 percent of Americans said they oppose oppose eliminating collective bargaining rights for public employees. Only 33 percent approved.
On Friday, Democratic governors spoke out against Walker’s tactics. Even several of their Republican gubernatorial counterparts said publicly this week that they differed with the Wisconsin governor’s approach.
For the 88,000 some teachers, education support professionals and higher education members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the objection to Walker’s bill is not financial. They’ve already indicated they are willing to concede the fiscal demands related to the bill, Bell said. But they will not allow their voices to be quelled.
“Denying the rights of taxpaying nurses, educators and EMTs to have a voice – and now denying the right of lawmakers to even cast a vote – will do nothing to fix the budget,” Bell said. “Workers’ right to a voice protects the safety of schools, class sizes for our children and ensures quality patient care – and it prevents the middle class from shrinking even more.”
To add your voice to Bell’s and those rising up around the country, sign NEA’s National Petition for Workers’ Rights. You can also volunteer now for future activism on behalf of public education and public employees. It only takes a minute. We need you to make a difference in these fights!