Liberal advocacy group Moveon.org spearheaded rallies all over America on Saturday in support of protests staged by public employees in Wisconsin against the newly passed budget-cutting bill.
The bill—which was instigated by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and passed by the Wisconsin Assembly at 1 am on Friday in a 51-17 vote—has been viewed as one that would strip public workers, except police and firefighters, majority of their collective-bargaining rights. With the passing of this bill, the collective-bargaining rights of labor unions will now be limited to concerns pertaining to their wages. Salary increases that are considered to be above the inflation rate in the country would be subjected to voter approval. In addition, workers will now be required to cover a larger part of their healthcare premiums and pension contributions.
The New York Times reports:
A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Administration said the increased contributions to pensions and health care would amount to about a 6 percent decrease in take-home pay for a state employee with a $50,000 income, the average for state workers. Workers would pay more than 12 percent of their health care premiums, up from 6 percent, while 5.8 percent of their pay would be diverted to finance pensions, up from less than 1 percent for typical workers.
Around 70,000 supporters comprising of teachers, firefighters and other public workers descended upon the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison, making it the largest gathering of protestors since protests against the bill began nearly two weeks ago. Several thousand workers also gathered in Columbus, Ohio, where lawmakers are in the process of considering a similar bill to the one that was passed in Wisconsin.
"What they're doing here is trying to kill unions, period," said Jean Ross, a nurse from Minnesota who traveled all the way to Wisconsin to show her support. "They've created a fiscal crisis and blamed the victims. Well, we are all victims here."
In Los Angeles, demonstrators gathered outside City Hall as they held placards with the words "We are all Wisconsin" and "Save the American Dream" up while chanting pro-union slogans and calling Gov. Walker's bill "an attack on workers' rights nationwide."
More than 300 workers dressed in red converged at the Capitol Square in Richmond, Virginia in support of the protests in Wisconsin. Virginia is one of the many "right-to-work" states in America. Early this year, the Virginia House passed a bill preventing unions from organizing a workplace unless members have authorized the creation of a bargaining unit in the form of a secret ballot. The bill, which failed to pass in the Senate, was meant to serve as a measure to prevent "card checking" as a means to create unions by having employees sign union membership forms.
"Collective bargaining is something people fought and died for in this country," 60-year-old entrepreneur Jeanne Wall told the Washington Post. "It's like voting rights. It's not something that can be taken away."
In Miami, Florida, about 150 people staged a rally in Bayfront Park with many of the protestors expressing their concern that Florida Governor Rick Scott, who is also a Republican, might try to strip away whatever few protections labor unions have in the state.
Along with public workers Democrats have also voiced out their disappointment on the passing of the said legislature. They pointed to the early-morning vow as a sign that the Republicans had little interest in negotiating.
"They rushed a vote in seconds, cheating Democratic representatives of the opportunity to vote against this horrible legislation" Peter Barca—the leader of the Wisconsin Assembly's Democrats—said. "Then they fled the chamber [after voting] surrounded by armed law enforcement agents."
Democratic members of both the Wisconsin Senate and the Indiana House of Representatives have been sequestered in Illinois on Saturday to avoid being forced by the state police to attend the legislative sessions in relation to the said bill in their respective home states. This decision was made in an attempt to block the legislation by denying the Republicans a quorum. They further stated that they will not return unless the Republicans drop the bill.
Wisconsin Labor Secretary Hilda Solis also expressed her support to the protestors by referring to the collective-bargaining rights bill as a way for government leaders not just "asking workers to tighten their belts. They're demanding to give up their uniquely American rights as workers."
In response to the nationwide protests, Gov. Walker explained that the civil protections provided to state employees in Wisconsin will not be affected by the collective-bargaining bill.
"Wisconsin state employees have the strongest civil protections in the country," he said. "That's not going to change in this bill."
Republican legislators have also argued that their decision to control government spending by cutting the pay and benefits of state employees —which account for roughly 27% of the total expenditures of the state—and the bargaining power of public-sector unions will allow the local government the ability to close budget gaps and resuscitate underfunded pension programs.