Wisconsin's Momentum Crosses State Lines
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Since Valentines Day, Wisconsin's capital has been inundated by protesters having their say about Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget proposal. They aren't giving him much love.
Union leaders, union members and other labor supporters took to the streets to fight against a piece of the proposal that would significantly cut into collective bargaining rights. Their protesting has garnered support all over the nation — from New Jersey to Washington state. On Tuesday nearly a dozen states held protests of their own with hundreds of people in attendance (New Yorkers rallied on Wednesday.)
But the protesters aren't just fighting for union rights in Wisconsin, they're fighting for their own.
Similar proposals have been introduced this year that connect cost-cutting to limiting collective bargaining rights, including in Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Ohio.
For most private sector workers, collective bargaining rights are insured by federal law, but states make their own decisions about the public sector.
Wisconsin was the first state to pass a collective bargaining law in 1959. Now, about half of the states in the U.S. have comprehensive laws that cover the entire public sector. Another quarter of the states cover some portion of public employees and the remaining states have little to no collective bargaining.
Many state leaders who stand behind these bills say this is necessary to cut spending. Gov. Walker said these changes and compromises will save jobs and help to balance the state budget. Collective bargaining is an expensive process, he said. His opponents accuse him of union busting, but the governor mantains his position.
According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released on Wednesday, 61 percent of Americans would oppose a law in their state similar to the Wisconsin's proposal, compared with 33 percent who would favor such a law.
Counter-protesters have gathered to support Walker's proposal in Wisconsin, but not in nearly the same numbers as bill opponents. Last weekend, bill supporters rallied in Madison. Among them was Tim Phillips, of Americans for Prosperity, a group financed in part by the conservative billionare fundraising machine, the Koch brothers. The New York Times reports that Koch Industries was one of the biggest contributors to Gov. Walker's campaign in Wisconsin. (On Wednesday, a prank call to Gov. Scott Walker went viral. The caller pretended to be billionaire and supporter, David Koch, and at first, Gov. Walker wasn't in on the joke. The audio was posted on Buffalo Beast, a left-leaning website in New York.)
Protests are planned for Friday at the statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey, but not just to support the Wisconsin protesters. They also have a bone to pick with their leader, Gov. Chris Christie, who released his budget plan on Tuesday and has said he supports Gov. Walker's efforts. The AFL-CIO's national president, Richard Trumka is expected to be there. Americans for Prosperity is organizing a "Taxpayers United" counter-protest in Trenton on the same day.
In Indiana, the proposed right-to-work bill died this week and the Senate leader said it won't be resurrected in his branch either. Union workers have been at the statehouse in Indianapolis all week protesting the bill.
In Ohio, a proposal backed by Republican Gov. John Kasich would eliminate state workers' rights to collectively bargain. On Tuesday, the Plain Dealer reported thousands of protesters were locked out of the Statehouse while they rallied, though many were eventually let in. Several had gathered to testify against the bill. The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined them. (He was in Wisconsin just last week.)
Here's how protesters responded in Ohio on Tuesday as they waited in the snow:
Even in states where workers don't have comprehensive collective bargaining laws, like Colorado, protests and counterprotests have emerged. In Denver on Tuesday, these protesters took to the streets.
And in New York on February 18th.