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Wisconsin public-sector unions mobilize

Published Feb 16, 2011 4:19 PM
Wisconsin workers demand: ‘Kill the bill’
WW photo: Bryan G. Pfeifer

An estimated 15,000 workers from all over Wisconsin descended upon the state Capitol in Madison Feb. 15 for an all-day protest against a proposed bill that attacks the rights of public-sector workers, especially the right to collective bargaining. Not only were the workers outside, but workers inside the Capitol took four floors and legislators' offices. Firefighters and teachers organized strong delegations along with youth and students. Elsewhere in the state, there were student walkouts from schools. A number of the workers' placards paid homage to the struggle of the Egyptian people.

On behalf of the banks, the corporations and the Pentagon, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has declared all-out war on unions and their allies. Walker’s “budget repair bill” proposal, which he unveiled at a state Capitol press conference on Feb. 11, proposes to virtually eliminate collective bargaining for approximately 175,000 public-sector union members. Walker has submitted his proposal to the Wisconsin Legislature with the directive that he wants his bill passed in the Assembly and the Senate by Feb. 17.

In a swift response, unions and their allies across the state are mobilizing to descend upon the Capitol in Madison this week with two major rallies planned for Feb. 15 and 16. Numerous other protest actions by labor-community-student organizations are ongoing across the state, including two major actions on Feb. 14: a march and rally to the Capitol building led by the Teaching Assistants Association-AFT and a rally at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee led by the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association-AFT Local 2169 and AFSCME. (www.mgaa.org)

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO is assisting member unions and federations in their protest actions to unite all workers in the state: union and nonunion, private and public sector. Facebook support pages are also mobilizing for the protest actions.

“This budget repair bill is an all-out assault on you, your families, your careers, your rights and your union. Walker keeps talking about the ‘good and decent people who work for the State of Wisconsin,’ but his actions speak a different message of divisiveness, cronyism and servitude,” AFSCME Council 24 wrote in a letter to its members after Walker’s Feb. 11 press conference. (www.wseu-sepac.org)

Some of the provisions in Walker’s bill include:

“Collective bargaining: The bill would make various changes to limit collective bargaining for most public employees to wages. Total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index unless approved by referendum. Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the new contract is settled. Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union. Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues. These changes take effect upon the expiration of existing contracts. Local law enforcement and fire employees, and state troopers and inspectors would be exempt from these changes;” (tinyurl.com/4t4oozh)

The unions in Wisconsin see their fight as part of a national fight, as many other governors also have “right-to-work,” deregulation and privatization legislation that they want implemented. If Walker’s proposals are passed, they will have an especially negative effect on women, workers of color, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.

“It is time for working people to come together, put aside our petty differences and confront the corporate and right-wing assault on our justice, dignity, prosperity, way of life and ultimately, our families. This is a fight over who controls and governs our country and its people: corporate and right-wing America, or the multitude of working people,” Dave Boucher of UAW Local 833 told this writer.

For a full list of protest actions and for more information: www.scfl.org.

Bryan G. Pfeifer is a former Wisconsin resident and is presently the staff organizer with the Union of Part-Time Faculty-AFT Local 477 at Wayne State University in Detroit.