Protesters have been converging on the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, since mid-February to protest the governor’s budget bill. Their voices are angry, energetic, accusatory.
The bill, which proponents say reels in spending but critics say is an overt attempt at union-busting, prompted 14 Democratic state senators to leave the state so they wouldn’t be forced to vote on the bill.
Despite reports of progress in the negotiations, there are still several bones of contention. The original bill by Gov. Scott Walker requires all public workers but police officers and firefighters to increase contributions to their pension and health insurance, and it prohibits unions from collecting dues.
It also restricts the unions’ collective bargaining power, caps wages and requires annual votes for unions to remain certified, which critics say would be costly.
The crowds have thinned since the protests first began, but many remain adamant that Walker’s bill must be defeated. Here is what some of them are saying:
The 58-year-old from Madison said he’s worn out from walking 5 or 6 miles a day during the last 12 days of the protests.
He accuses the statehouse of “bully politics” and said he doesn’t appreciate “the way they’re trying to change things, ram things down our throat without a chance of really seeing the bill.”
He has faith, though, that the protesters will prevail.
“People who use democracy and understand what democracy is, always win in the end,” he said.
Carr, 48, has been attending the protests since they began, stopping in during lunch breaks and on her days off.
The Madison union member said that when she first heard of Walker’s proposals, “my jaw just dropped and I knew we had to do something to stop this.”
She predicted that if the bill passes, it will be detrimental to the state.
“The more that comes out about what’s in this bill – both the budget repair bill and the budget itself – it’s going to rip this state apart. It’s going to rip this state to the seams.”
The Madison stay-at-home mother of two has been a mainstay at the protests, pushing her 2-year-old son’s stroller amid the demonstrations.
The boy has heard the chants for 20 days now, and Weisser said he asks every morning, “Are we going to kill the bill, mom?”
Wielding a sign that reads, “This is a fight for democracy and human rights. Hold the line,” the 31-year-old said she has no government or union affiliation. She simply feels her fellow Wisconsinites are having their rights trampled on.
She feels the bill has little to do with the budget and is more focused on “busting unions so that we have to live in a corporate-controlled world.” She worries that it will hurt services like recycling programs and increase classroom sizes for her 9-year-old, she said.
“Now that I have stood up, I can’t sit down,” she said. “I’m just a mom who sees my rights and the rights of my fellow people being violated, and I’m not going to sit down for it.”
The 65-year-old former health care worker was bundled in a University of Wisconsin jacket to ward off the 20- and 30-degree temperatures in Madison.
A union member, she said she has been to the Capitol about 11 times since the protests began.
She stated flatly that the budget bill is wrong and that the state should continue engaging in collective bargaining.
“My favorite book of the Bible is the book of James,” she said, “and it says if you don’t get up off your bottom and do something about your faith, then your faith is worthless.”
Asked if she was optimistic the protests would be effective, she replied, “We always hope. That’s what Christians are all about.”
Cartwright is from Gladstone, and he has taken time off work to attend the last nine days of demonstrations at the Capitol.
A member of Local 107, he said he’s disturbed that Walker’s first step in office was to disband the unions. He’d like to see a compromise and said he and other protesters are at the Capitol to support the 14 Democrats who fled the state.
“(Walker’s) on a beeline to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state,” he said, using the term used for states where workers decide for themselves whether to join unions. “That’s the ultimate goal for Mr. Walker. We’ve got to stop him on the front end. We’ll be here as long as those 14 Democrats are out.”
The 50-year-old Madison resident looked tired but said he’s “fired up and ready to go.”
He joined the protests on their third day because he felt the “whole bill just wasn’t right.” He lives and works near the Capitol “and when I get off work I come out here and make sure my voice is heard.”
“The whole bill and the whole budget are just so contrary to what Wisconsin is all about, from BadgerCare (state health care coverage) to union-busting to our environment to green power to green jobs to green energy to green trains. Everything is just wrong with what Scott Walker is doing,” he said.
Though Clark said he’d like to see the bill killed largely for environmental reasons, he also believes Wisconsin needs a constitution that prevents both corporations and unions from buying elections. He feels such a measure would allow unions to purchase more health insurance for their members.
“I’m not yelling so much, but I don’t need to,” he said. “I just need to think about how we’re going to win.”
Ross is one of only three building engineers for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and he comes out to join the protests every Tuesday, his day off.
He's from Milwaukee County – which Walker represented as an assemblyman and county executive before winning the governorship last year – and he believes the governor is attempting to dismantle the unions.
“He was that way in Milwaukee County and he was real stubborn there, and he’s carrying on here,” he said.
The 50-year-old member of Local 317 said the bill “cuts to home” because his father was a union teacher in Chicago, Illinois, and Wisconsin, which “afforded me the opportunity to go to college and just live a decent life.”
His biggest fear, he said, is “that they’re going to pass this and drag the senators back here illegally,” but he remains optimistic.
“I think that the people have been reinvigorated about this, and we’ll persevere,” he said.
the corporate loyalist tea party hired goons are going after women rights, unions, middle class workers, non-Christian religions, marijuana, immigrants, birth control and so on.....
the tea party believes that the middle class needs to be 'broken', rehabilitated, cleansed, and reborn as a 'real' American, a patriot...and that all Americans will be reflections of themselves..
How does the tea party differ from a cancer?.... it really doesn't.... a cancer attacks other cells to make more of its own cancer..... the tea party can't co-exist in a true democracy with all of its diversity .....
America needs to cut this cancer out to survive as a true democracy as the founders intended...
What utter drivel.
Geez, talk about an imbalanced article. All of the interviews here are union workers who obviously oppose the governor. If there were no support for the budget bill and the spending cuts, this would be a complete non-issue. Yet, it is still being fought so there IS another side to the debate. So, WHERE IS IT?
I agree with DaveL! Yes, move to AZ , which is now Bankrupt, Real-Estate down so low that it would be about 50 years before it will recover ... and yes, , NO jobs either....who is moving to AZ? Rich Retirees and other wealthy folks, cause' still cheaper to live here...
No one is forced to join a union.
But plenty are forced not to join.
In right to work (for less) states, lazy free-riders are given a license to scab off union members' dues.
It's like living in a country where taxes are optional.
Even then most people, when offered the choice, still want union. Walker is union-busting. Period.
Walker is toast!
Welcome to Third World America, where we bail out the thieving CEOs with working families' money.
Unions are free loaders.
I'd be angry and protesting if someone told me that I had to get to reality after free loading for decades.
What is this Communism?
I work for my wages. Teachers work for their wages when they educate your children. Corrections officers work for their wages by guarding inmates. Police officers work for their wages when they maintain public safety. Every public sector employee is working a job. This is what it means to be an employee. They provide public services that every Wisconsin resident uses. How exactly are they freeloading?
Anyone who is working a 40-hour work week, is at least being paid the minimum wage, is compensated with overtime pay for working more than 40 hours in a week, has safety regulations governing their work site, is of any religion, is female, is of a race other than white - thank a union today because it was union members that fought for those rights against corporations that ran sweastshops, paid slave wages, never hired, never promoted anyone other than white males. Yes, THANK THE UNIONS for not letting corporations treat American workers as slaves belonging to them for the sole purpose of making them rich. It was PRIVATE industry, not public workers, that brought this nation to its economic knees two years ago with their greed and avarice. Greed, by the way, is not capitalism. It's simply unpatriotic. And it's unpatriotic of other middle-class Americans to wage war on their fellow middle-class American wage earners rather than the corporate fascists they apparently so love. If corporations, including those in Wisconsin, were responsible for ANY taxes then Wisconsin wouldn't be in the fiscal trouble they're in. But, no corporation pays taxes in Wisconsin and wow, lo and behold, they have a fiscal crisis they now wish to blame union members for. Disingenous at best and completely transparent to anyone with a brain. You want to work for slave wages? Move to Nevada, which BTW, has the highest unemployment in the nation.
And, further, should public employees get laid off due to the irresponsibility of polliticians and the greed of corporations and their puppets, the conservatives among us, those public employees will be in the job market competing for jobs with the other unfortunate middle-class Americans who got screwed by the rich and powerful and we public service employees are better educated, better trained, better prepared. Once we're all thrown into the same pot I wonder who among us will get hired and who will not?
Not exactly related to this story but up until say the mid 1970's most traditional families were able to exist on the salary of the one working parent (the father). The mother stayed home and tended to the house and children. Then at some point it became necessary, i suppose, for both parents to work. Now if it were possible to go back to the place where most families could exist on one income. Would the women prefer to be stay at home moms. Just think of how that would reduce the numbers of unemployed if the women returned to the home and the men brought home the bacon.
I live in a right to work state. The folks who were born and raised here think this is how things are. If a union tries to come in, the people are told unions are corrupt and they will have to pay a lot of money to them, out of their checks every month. The workers have also been told that the business they work for will have to be shut down, if unions come in. The workers believe and so they vote against the union.
In exchange for worker loyalty, the workers get to work 10-12 hour days, six days a week. Many of the workers want to work such exhausting hours because the wages are so low that they can't live on 8 hour days, 5 days a week. They also endure poor safety conditions and breathe in toxic fumes in the factories. There are no state laws designed to protect workers. Those few who are aware of federal laws are afraid to say anything because they might lose their jobs. Benefits are skimpy and few, if at all. The medical benefits offered come with such high premiums and deductables and co-pays that the average worker cannot afford to pay them. People who become seriously sick can fired from their jobs for not coming to work.
But, hey, in spite of all that , people have the right to work. Don't they?
You're generalization is pretty extreme, ShaJen. It sounds like a sweatshop, which is illegal. What jobs are you talking about exactly? There are still indentured servants and an active slave trade in the U.S., but it's also illegal. When it's discovered, people go to jail. Your dire picture has nothing to do with right to work or unions.
Aksdad, Either you live in a state where unions have influenced the wages and benefits for all workers, union or not. If so, consider moving to a state that has been a 'right to work' state for generations, like Arizona and Utah, others as well, and see first-hand what it is really like.
Or, maybe you are one of those folks who has a top corporation job. In which case, you already know what corporations are trying to do and are trying to dilute the truth. If this is your situation, please tell us the corporation you work for and your position. Bet you won't admit and you won't tell.
Wisc repub sens just past a freshly stripped from the Emerg Budget Bill the Collective Bargaining section and passed it in 3 minutes. Only ONE, 1, dem was present. Vote was 18 to 1 and passed.
Only Dem called act ILLEGAL and had no voice.
WOW!!!!!!!!!! ~6:30 pm 03/09/2011
It doesn't matter if the protesters are standing firm or not. There are certain fiscal realities that can't be protested away and Gov. Walker and the newly-elected Republicans are addressing them with sometimes painful, but sober legislation. Removing collective bargaining rights on pensions is essential. This is the budget-buster that many states are facing. Current legislatures grant pension and benefits favors that taxpayers years down the road have to subsidize. Thankfully, the Republicans got tired of mollycoddling the missing Democrats and are moving ahead without them. This should be a done deal by tomorrow. Congratulations Wisconsin! You're taking steps to restrict spending, check the power of the public sector unions, and get your budgets back in the black. This is good for everyone, including the kids who need good teachers.
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