Compiled by Courier Staff
Thousands of protesters made the trip to Madison this week to make their voices heard regarding Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget bill. At a time when most folks are still struggling to get back on their feet, Gov. Walker has asked the state legislature to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
Many who tried their best to warn voters that Walker would be a governor of extremes are speaking out, and even those that voted for him are protesting in Madison and even in front of his Wauwatosa home. Dan Grandone, Wisconsin State director for Organizing for America released a statement urging supporters to speak out against Walker’s plan.
“We always knew Scott Walker would pursue a rightwing, anti-worker agenda. We didn’t know it would be this extreme.” he said.
He also added, “Under his plan, park rangers, teachers, and prison guards would no longer be able to fight back if the new Republican majority tries to slash their health benefits or pensions.”
Madison public schools closed on Wednesday, Feb. 16 because of the amount of teachers who called in sick to make a trip to the State Capital to make their opposition heard as well. While extreme opposition exists, Republicans are touting that they have the votes to pass this legislation, and Walker is claiming corporate and manufacturing support for his bill.
The rally that began at the capitol building at noon on Tuesday stretched into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, with hundreds of students, workers and community members determined to speak during the State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee hearing.
The hearing was purported to be a time for public comment on the so-called Budget Repair Bill, and the public showed up with plenty to say. Yet around 10 o’clock at night, Republican legislators attempted to end debate by refusing to accept additional slips for speaker requests. That met with vocal opposition from the crowd. Faced with peaceful but voluminous protest, Republicans eventually had no choice but to capitulate. They continued to accept new requests to speak for about three more hours.
“I have never seen anything like it before,” reports Wisconsin State AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt. “Republicans were barely pretending to listen to the people who will be affected by this bill. Did they really think that they could take away workers’ rights and dismantle the labor/management relationship that has served this state well for decades without getting an earful?”
Around 2:30 A.M., Joint Finance Committee Republicans abruptly concluded the hearing. Protesters refused to leave.
“Republican legislators walked out on working families. It is a perfect metaphor for this bill as a whole,” said Neuenfeldt. “Government is supposed to listen to the citizens and care about the middle class. Tonight’s events prove that if we have to speak louder to make that happen, we will.”
“It is up to us to fight for the right of workers to have a collective voice on the job,” said Neuenfeldt, “We will not stand by and watch those rights be taken away. For every person here today, there are 100 more who could not make it and we stand with them. This proposal is too extreme.
No one should be taking away our rights as workers and our rights as Americans.”
“We have to stop this now,” said Steve Heimsness, the Treasurer of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association. “Politicians are trying to take away workers’ union rights in Wisconsin. We need representatives to listen to the thousands of workers here today and stop this bill.”
The protests on the Capitol ground reflected how extreme and severe the effect of this plan would have on everyday families, with many carrying signs saying “Stop The Attack On Working Families.”
“This bill is too extreme to push through in four days,” said James Macon, a Milwaukee bus driver and union member. “We have worked with both Democratic and Republican governors before and we can do that again.”
Protesters are not limiting their opposition to Madison and Walker’s home, a protest and rally was also being planned as this newspaper went to press. Teachers, public employees and concerned citizens planned to demonstrate at State Senator Alberta Darling’s Menomonee Falls office. Senator Darling is the co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee. So far she has been steadfast in her support of Walker’s bill despite hundreds of contacts in opposition from alarmed constituents. Because she was reelected two years ago, Darling could be subject to an immediate recall petition should the bill pass with her continued support.
“Alberta Darling and other Walker allies keep soft pedaling this legislation as modest and reasonable changes for public employees that are necessary to address problems with the state budget,” said Tim McCarthy a teacher at Glen Hills Middle School. “In reality the bill is a wholesale repeal of collective bargaining rights that have been in place for over 50 years and have been the cornerstone for middle class jobs and honest, accountable public services. This bill is a premeditated attack on teachers, nurses, district attorneys and countless other Wisconsin citizens who provide vital public services.”
“Walker’s bill goes way beyond the health insurance and pension contributions Alberta Darling and other Walker supporters talk about,” said Joe Przybylski, a teacher at Homestead High School in the Mequon-Thiensville School District. “By effectively eliminating our contracts and our rights to bargain, we are set up for massive cuts in our compensation in the near future and longer term. Attacking the middle class jobs of public servants will only make our economy worse because hundreds of thousands of families will have less to spend at their local businesses. I can’t imagine a bill that could be worse for jobs in Wisconsin.”
The protest of this bill has dominated the news in Wisconsin since last Friday, overshadowing the fact that there was even a primary election held this week. What also didn’t receive many headlines was the fact that Walker killed another hope for jobs when he returned a $23 million Broadband Federal Internet grant.
Representative Mark Pocan (D-Madison) released the following statement in response to this Walker move. “Today, Governor Scott Walker continues a pattern of turning away Wisconsinite’s federal taxpayer dollars that create jobs and sending them to other states. By his actions Walker is perpetuating our job crisis. Not only is he turning away construction jobs that would have come with the federal grant to expand broadband fiber to schools and libraries across Wisconsin, but he’s closing off potential to business growth that comes with bridging the digital divide. What’s worse, the root of his decision wasn’t what was in the best interest of Wisconsin, rather the best interest of his big telecommunications campaign donors.”