POLITICS

Wisconsin Protests Draw More Than 70,000 In Largest Rally Yet

02/27/2011 09:18 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

MADISON, Wis. — Chanting pro-union slogans and carrying signs declaring "We are all Wisconsin," protesters turned out in cities nationwide to support thousands of public workers who've set up camp at the Wisconsin Capitol to fight Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening unions.

Union supporters organized rallies from New York to Los Angeles in a show of solidarity Saturday as the demonstration in Madison entered its 12th straight day and attracted its largest crowd yet: more than 70,000 people. Hundreds banged on drums and screamed into bullhorns inside the Capitol as others braved frigid weather and snow during the massive rally that flooded into nearby streets.

"I want to thank you for coming out here today to exercise those pesky First Amendment rights," actor Bradley Whitford, who starred in television's "The West Wing," said as he rallied his hometown crowd. "This governor has to understand Wisconsin is a stubborn constituency. We fish through ice!"

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has introduced a bill that includes stripping almost all public workers of their right to collectively bargain on benefits and work conditions. Walker has said the bill would help close a projected $3.6 billion deficit in the 2011-13 budget, and argues that freeing local governments from collective bargaining would give them flexibility amid deep budget cuts.

The bill has sent Democrats and unions into an outrage. They see it as trampling on workers' rights and as an attempt to destroy Democrats' strongest campaign allies.

Some protestors have even been sleeping in the Wisconsin Capitol. Police planned to let protesters stay overnight Saturday into Sunday but are expected to finally close the building Sunday afternoon for cleaning.

"Wisconsin is opening up people's eyes a little bit," said Jay Van Loenen, a teacher who attended a rally in Denver that attracted about 1,000 people. "So I think that the move is to try to get people more involved in their unions and create a stronger front so that if something happens here, we are prepared."

Several thousand people gathered for a rally in Columbus, Ohio, where lawmakers are considering a similar bill. Indiana Democrats successfully blocked a Republican bill last week that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment.

Large crowds of teachers, firefighters and public workers also gathered for rallies – holding American flags, wearing pro-union clothing and holding signs – in other capital cities including Topeka, Kan.; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Olympia, Wash.

In Los Angeles, public sector workers and others held signs that read "We are all Wisconsin" during a rally. Some wore foam "cheeseheads," the familiar hats worn by Green Bay Packers fans.

Covered in layers of coats, scarves, hats and gloves, about 1,000 rally goers outside the Minnesota Capitol chanted "Workers' rights are human rights" and waved signs, some reading "United we bargain, divided we beg."

"The right to collectively bargain is an American right," Eliot Seide, a local union leader, told the crowd in St. Paul. "You can't have American democracy if you don't have a strong trade union movement."

The rallies were part of a campaign by the liberal online group MoveOn.org to hold demonstrations supporting Wisconsin workers in major cities across the country. Some of the demonstrations attracted counter-protests, though the pro-union rallies were larger.

Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said he didn't have a firm estimate on the Wisconsin capital's crowd, but said it was larger than last weekend when nearly 70,000 people descended on the Capitol.

The Wisconsin crowd cheered as pilot Jeff Skiles, the first officer on the US Airways Flight that landed in New York City's Hudson River in January 2009, said that "justice and righteousness will always win out." Skiles helped pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger land the plane, whose 155 passengers and crew members were safely rescued.

Protesters jammed the Wisconsin Capitol steps, packed the ice-covered lawn – some sat in trees – and filled surrounding streets. Several thousand counter-protesters came out last Saturday to support Walker, but they were hardly visible this time.

Capitol police planned to let protesters stay overnight Saturday into Sunday, but plan to finally close the building Sunday afternoon to let crews clean it.

People held signs that called Walker a parasite and a dictator and demanded voters recall him. Michael Janairo, a 4-year-old of Sheboygan, held a sign that showed Green Bay Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews tackling Walker. Michael's mother, Lisa Janairo, is not a public worker but drove to Madison to show support.

"For him to dictate and not negotiate is just wrong and we won't stand for it," the 45-year-old said.

03/07/2011 5:01 PM EST

No Compromise?

The Atlantic reports that at one town hall meeting in Wisconsin, one GOP state senator faced "loud opposition" to a proposed compromise.

03/04/2011 1:04 AM EST

Judge Orders Protesters Out Of Capitol

From AP:

About 50 pro-union protesters peacefully left the state Capitol late Thursday after a judge ruled they could no longer spend the night to show their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to eliminate nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.

The judge also ruled the state had violated the public's free speech and assembly rights by restricting access to the building.

Full story here.

03/03/2011 5:00 PM EST

Layoff Notices To Come Friday

AP reports that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will issue layoff notices to 1,500 state employees Friday if his union bill doesn't pass by then:

Walker also said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is negotiating with Democrats who stymied passage of the bill by leaving the state for changes to the proposal that would get them to return. Walker said he won't compromise on the collective bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.

"I can't take any of that off the table," he said.

More here.

03/03/2011 11:16 AM EST

New Research Numbers

HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal writes:

A new survey released this morning by the Pew Research Center is the first to provide a clear before-and-after snapshot of national attitudes toward labor unions in the wake of the ongoing protests and budget conflict in Wisconsin:

The public’s overall views of labor unions have changed little through the lengthy stalemate between Wisconsin’s governor and the state’s public employee unions over collective bargaining rights. About half (47%) say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions compared with 39% who have an unfavorable opinion. In early February, 45% expressed a favorable opinion of unions and 41% said they had an unfavorable view. However, liberal Democrats and people in union households are more likely to say they have a very favorable opinion of labor unions than they were just weeks ago.

See the Pew Research report for their complete analysis and full results by party, ideology and union membership subgroups. The Pew Center had also conducted an in-depth survey on unions in early February, just before Walker released the budget bill that sparked the protests.

03/02/2011 6:42 PM EST

Man Cited For Unplugging Fox Equipment

The City of Madison has filed a police report charging a 23-year-old man for "disorderly conduct" after he unplugged extension cords from a Fox News vehicle. Read the full report here.

03/02/2011 6:00 PM EST

West Virginia Approves Pay Hikes For Public Workers

Adding another state into the debate on public workers, West Virginia's Herald-Dispatch reports:

West Virginia's public employees would reap pay raises averaging 2 percent this year, with a second year of increases promised to teachers and school workers, under a proposal advanced Wednesday to the state Senate by the House.

But the 78-22 vote reflected GOP-led concerns that increasing state spending threatens a stable budgetary picture that has so far allowed West Virginia to avoid deficits and the painful choices they can force. Foes also contrasted the pay hikes with the state's continuing unemployment woes.

Full story here.

03/02/2011 5:44 PM EST

Update: Ohio Bill Would Jail Striking Librarians

More details have surfaced on Ohio's controversial SB 5, which just passed the state senate.

WSJ reports:

Senate Bill 5 would prohibit public-employee unions representing teachers, librarians, toll collectors and others from bargaining over health benefits, pensions and working conditions. Under the bill, unions could still negotiate wages, but striking would be prohibited for all public workers, taking away a major bargaining chip. Workers could face a fine of up to $1,000, or 30 days in jail, if they go on strike.

A Twitter campaign, #standupOH, has already mounted. As user @escapetochengdu tweeted, "The bill that just passed Ohio Senate allows the government to jail striking librarians for 30 days. Despicable."

Read the whole Wall Street Journal story here.

03/02/2011 5:25 PM EST

Ohio Senate Passes Controversial Anti-Union Bill

The bill put forth by an Ohio panel earlier today has passed the state senate, TPM reports:

The Ohio State Senate just passed the controversial SB 5, aimed a limiting unionized state employees' ability to collectively bargain or go on strike.

In an indication of how divisive the legislation is in the Buckeye State, the final vote in the Senate was 17-16.

Gov. John Kasich (R) has endorsed the measure and is expected to sign it when it reaches his desk.

Full story here.

03/02/2011 5:18 PM EST

'Runaway Senator' Tourism Campaign Goes Viral

A tourism campaign leveraging the Wisconsin senators who fled to Rockford, Illinois has gone viral. The push, "Hide Away In Rockford," hawks "collectively bargained" rates to some of the town's best tourist attractions.

“Unlike Wisconsin’s state senators, this video isn’t low key; it’s been a real runaway hit," said Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB) President/CEO John Groh of the campaign's success.

Watch the promotional video here.

03/02/2011 4:48 PM EST

Polls: Polarized Wisconsin Leans Toward Unions

HuffPost's resident pollster Mark Blumenthal reports:

WASHINGTON -- A automated telephone poll conducted this week in Wisconsin by the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) largely confirms other recent polls showing public support for collective bargaining rights for unions and, by a narrow margin, more opposition than support for the agenda of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Some caution is in order, however, about several vote preference questions included in the same survey.

Despite the ongoing coverage and national interest in the controversy, all of the opinion surveys taken within Wisconsin so far have had sponsors with partisan ties, and each has taken a different approach to the questions asked. Where their questions have been similar, however, we can begin to compare the results.

Read more here.

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