Dave Hansen is one of the 14 Democratic senators from Wisconsin who courageously left their state in a show of solidarity that has captured the attention of the nation. The senators oppose a budget proposal that, if passed, would end collective bargaining for state employees in Wisconsin.
Dave, a former Green Bay Department of Public Works employee and 20-year Teamster, is one of those 14. On the 16th day of the struggle, Hansen took time to talk with a member of the Teamsters Union staff from an undisclosed location in Illinois, where he has hope that America's middle class will prevail in this 21st century fight between corporate greed and working Americans. I think you'll be inspired by this interview.
Q: How are you holding up?
We're all holding up pretty well. It's been a challenge for all 14 of us to stay united. Ultimately, though, we've decided that when we go back, we will go back as a unit. It has been tough to be away from home for a couple weeks. I miss seeing my grandkids and being with my family.
Q: Are you in one stationary location or are you moving throughout the state of Illinois?
We have had to move. We were at a hotel and we moved to the residence of a Senate family member. Tea Party members tried to make a big deal about our presence there, so we relocated to give that family member privacy. We're doing our best to stay united in spirit, but have separated somewhat physically so we can get our message out without being descended upon by Tea Party activists.
Q: How often do you talk with your fellow Wisconsin senators?
We are talking daily with senators from Wisconsin. There has been at least one meeting on the border to try and iron things out. I really do believe there are some Republican senators who want to vote with us. Those senators have, for many years, supported the rights of workers to bargain at the table. This hasn't been a partisan issue in the past, but Gov. Walker has made it a partisan thing. We've been trying to negotiate with Gov. Walker, but he is unwilling to negotiate.
Q: The heart of this battle is over workers' rights. Are there any other issues that are playing an important role?
Yes. What we're really dealing with is one person controlling the legislative branch. I think there's going to be more outrage as $1.5 billion gets cut from public education. The governor is capping a raise on taxes. He's taking away all the money from the middle class, but telling them to fend for themselves.
Q: You have given a voice to working people across this country. Do you consider yourself a hero?
We're not the heroes--the people are the heroes. The real, extraordinary efforts are the rallies and protests that are going on in Madison and across the nation. I just want to thank all the people who have come out to defend the rights of working Americans. I really respect all the people back home.
Q: What, for you, has been the most difficult part of this battle and the easiest part of this battle?
The hardest part has been being out of Wisconsin and out of Green Bay. I missed some really cool things my constituents have done and I've missed my grandkids' basketball tournaments. The neat thing is the 14 Democratic senators have really gotten to know each other. We all have different philosophies, but amazingly, we've stayed together and we will go back together.
Q: How has your experience as a Teamster influenced your tenure as a state senator and how is it impacting your views during this battle?
I see that some of the hardest working people are being vilified in this fight--I know. I worked as a sanitation employee for 20 years and we busted our butts. I believe in the working men and women of this country and I believe they deserve a place at the table. As a Teamster, I worked hard and I learned the importance of organized labor. I think union membership is a valuable part of what we are as Americans. It's about living the American dream.
Q: What do you think this current movement says about America?
It shows that some people are trying to take us in the wrong direction, but the great majority of people in our state and across this nation believe in what we're doing. In Wisconsin, we have one model and that's forward. Union members are important consumers, citizens and taxpayers, too. Unfortunately, we're in a tough position being in the minority in both the house and the senate. The Supreme Court is conservative and the governor is conservative beyond belief. Our governor is more interested in taking care of billionaires than people in middle and lower income groups and I think the American people realize that isn't right. As time goes on, I think more and more people are moving to the side of working men and women.
Q: In 20 years, when this battle is hopefully over, how do you want to be remembered?
This is about doing the right thing. To me, it's about standing up for what you believe in, even if there are some consequences. It's about fighting for the American dream. When I address young people, I tell them to believe in the power of their dreams. We have to give people the opportunity to have their dreams succeed and that's why I'm in this fight. In 20 years, I'm going to say that I made the right decision. Sometime in your life, you have to fight for something even if you don't succeed immediately.
Q: What can working people across the country do to support you and the Wisconsin 14?
We have to change the landscape of the state senate. We have to protect the people who are fighting the good fight. We need to build on the current 14 and put some common sense back into government. Everyone has a voice and people who support us need to show that voice in the polls.
Q: What do you want to say to your 1.4 million Teamster brothers and sisters who are watching as the events in Wisconsin unfold?
Once you're a Teamster, you're always a Teamster. I want all union members and all working families out there to know that organized labor is in it for the right reasons. They are there to protect you and we must continue to grow and fight.
Follow James P. Hoffa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Teamsters