After day-long protests yesterday (Feb. 16) drew as many as 30,000 people in Madison, hundreds of Wisconsin workers, students and allies camped out last night in the Capitol Rotunda as a hearing on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill that eliminates collective bargaining rights for nearly all of the state’s public service workers went past midnight.
The state Senate is set to vote on the bill today. It was approved last night by the Joint Finance Committee on a straight party line vote with all Republicans backing the attack on worker’s rights. Today thousands workers and their supporters from around the state enter the third day of a massive protest against Walker’s plan.
In a statement, the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers said:
As a publicly owned team we wouldn’t have been able to win the Super Bowl without the support of our fans. … They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families. But now in an unprecedented political attack Governor Walker is trying to take away their right to have a voice and bargain at work.
The right to negotiate wages and benefits is a fundamental underpinning of our middle class. When workers join together it serves as a check on corporate power and helps ALL workers by raising community standards. Wisconsin’s long standing tradition of allowing public sector workers to have a voice on the job has worked for the state since the 1930s. It has created greater consistency in the relationship between labor and management and a shared approach to public work.
These public workers are Wisconsin’s champions every single day and we urge the Governor and the State Legislature to not take away their rights.
Meanwhile in Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich is mirroring Walker’s assault on workers with similar legislation to strip collective bargaining rights from teachers, EMTs and other public workers, thousands of workers will rally against the bill in Columbus today.
Last night in Madison as the crowds stayed far into the night outside the Capitol too, Democratic state Rep. Cory Mason said:
This is the most anti-worker legislation in Wisconsin history. We are here tonight to tell Gov. Walker that this proposal has gone too far. Brothers and sisters, this is the fight of our generation. This is the moment to transcend party politics and do what is right by the hard working people who voted you in office.
The Wisconsin battle has drawn national attention and President Obama weighed in yesterday saying Walker’s plan looked less like an attempt to fix the state’s budget deficit but rather “it seems like more of an assault on unions.”
I think it’s very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers and they’re firefighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers. They make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution. And I think it’s important not to vilify them or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.
Also Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged Walker to work with the unions not “antagonize” them. He said he plans to call Walker today.
Wisconsin workers are also receiving support for religious leaders. Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki on Wednesday said in a letter to lawmakers there is a ”moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.”
Walker has longed claimed his attack on workers is strictly a budget matter and has falsely blamed workers and their unions for state’s economic problems. Listecki wrote that it is a “mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth.”
As Pope John Paul II wrote in 1981 “a union remains a constructive force of social order and solidarity. And it is impossible to ignore it.”
In a statement issued yesterday—Stop Attacking Workers— Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) said:
Our religious traditions insist that workers, as human beings with inherent dignity, have the right to form associations to improve their conditions at work. Statements issued by a wide array of … faith bodies support the right of workers to organize and bargain with their employers over wages, benefits, and a voice on the job.
Rabbi Reníƒ©e Bauer, Director of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin, said Walker’s bill “is an affront to the human dignity of public sector workers.”
As a religious leader I recognize this as a moral crisis. Jewish tradition makes protecting the weak from exploitation by the mighty, treating laborers fairly and recognizing their rights to organize a religious obligation.
My tradition is not alone in this call. All religions believe in justice. Now is the time for all of us to live out our faith by raising our voices to protect the rights of workers in Wisconsin and throughout the country.