Thousands of Wisconsin union workers protest budget plan
(Reuters) - More than 10,000 union public employees and supporters packed the Capitol Square and the inside of the statehouse on Tuesday to protest Gov. Scott Walker's budget plan to strip many bargaining rights from state and local government workers.
Republicans legislators hope to get the bill, announced by the new Republican governor last Friday, to Walker's desk by the end of the week. The office of the Republican legislative leaders say they have the votes for passage.
Republicans took over majority control of the Wisconsin legislature and won the governorship in the 2010 election.
Protesters chanted and held signs while the Joint Finance Committee heard testimony on the bill. The committee planned to go into the night to hear from hundreds signed up to speak.
Arlyn Halvorson, a farmer, highway worker and AFSCME member who is also president of the McFarland School Board near Madison, urged lawmakers to step back and take another look.
"It's one thing to do fiscal business and it's another to do political business and take people's rights away," he said.
Republicans said collective bargaining rules must be changed so governments can avoid laying off thousands of workers due to a short-term budget gap of $137 million and a two-year budget hole estimated by Walker at $3.6 billion.
Police estimated some 13,000 people attended the protest. Walker is due to unveil a two-year budget plan on February 22.
A growing number of deficit-ridden states have tried to curb expenses by going after public employee union contracts and pensions.
Former, Current Packers Back State Unions
MADISON, Wis. -- Five former and two current Green Bay Packer players are standing behind state union employees.The seven NFL Players Association members have signed a letter supporting the AFL-CIO's efforts against Gov. Scott Walkers' budget plan to end collective bargaining rights for nearly all public employees.Their statement says Wisconsin has a "long standing tradition of allowing public sector workers to have a voice on the job," a practice that "has worked for the state since the 1930s."Signing the statement are Brady Poppinga and Jason Spitz along with former Packers Curtis Fuller, Chris Jacke, Charles Jordan, Bob Long and Steve Okoniewski.
I attended the rallies in Madison today against Comrade/Herr Walker and his Budget "Repair" Bill. It was a very peaceful protest; every union and fighting song from AC/DC to Bon Jovi was played for the crowd. There were also many private unions represented in solidarity - IATSE, UAW, Ironworkers, and Teamsters were just the few I saw. The crowd got very energized when the Firefighters showed up; part of the bill exempts all police and firefighter unions from having their rights stripped away so to see them there saying how wrong it is to put the rights of one group above another... yeah, I'll admit it. I teared up at that.