On Wisconsin! (Breaking News)Posted: February 17, 2011
Public employees, largely teachers and many of their students, have been protesting in Madison for three days, flooding the Capitol building with people and signage. Many Wisconsin schools have had to close due to sick-outs by large percentages of the state’s teachers.
The fight in Wisconsin has become a flash point for a national debate over budget deficits and how to solve them, with both sides recognizing the high-stakes battle will become a template for other states, no matter who comes out on top. A large defeat for unions in the battleground state of Wisconsin—the birthplace of AFSCME— would have public policy repercussions.
The Democratic Party’s Organizing for America, the leftover campaign apparatus from the Obama campaign, has entered the fray, filling buses and running phone banks for unions in Wisconsin. President Obama offered his opinion, declaring Walker’s measures an “assault on unions” despite admitting he hadn’t looked into the details.
Democratic Senators fled the state of Wisconsin to prevent a quorum call that would allow Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans to start the process of gutting the right to organize and form collective bargaining units for state employees like teachers and police. All 14 of the Democratic senators have actually left the state. The State Patrol has been sent to fetch them by State Senate President. Most people guess they’ve fled to Illinois somewhere as a group.
Meanwhile, a second day of protests surrounded the capitol building in Milwaukee.
No Democrats were present at the start of the state Senate session shortly after 11 a.m. to vote on a bill stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights. The Democratic members are currently out of state, WISC-TV reported.The Senate’s Republican majority sought to convene on Thursday to pass Gov. Scott Walker’s union bill. The Democrats’ move means the Senate can’t act at this point.Now, police officers are looking for Democratic lawmakers who were ordered to attend a vote. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said law enforcement officers were searching for Democrats after they were ordered to attend the Senate session.Republicans need one Democratic senator to be present. Calls to Democratic leaders weren’t immediately returned. Republicans ordered a call of the house to force Democrats to show up. Seventeen Republicans were present so the session began without the Democrats. Calls to Democratic leaders and others in the 14-member caucus weren’t immediately returned.Thousands of people clogged the halls of the Capitol for a third straight day in opposition. Observers in the balcony shouted “Freedom! Democracy! Unions!” as Republicans tried to start debate.
There are a lot of reports in the local press on the impact of the rallies and protests. While the right wing has focused on the need to shut down schools due to teacher’s calling in sick to attend the protest, it appears students have joined the ranks of the protesters.
Walker and Republican leaders have said they have the votes to pass the plan.That didn’t stop thousands of protesters from clogging the hallway outside the Senate chamber beating on drums, holding signs deriding Walker and pleading for lawmakers to kill the bill. Protesters also demonstrated outside the homes of some lawmakers.
Hundreds of teachers called in sick, forcing a number of school districts to cancel classes. Madison schools, the state’s second-largest district with 24,000 students, closed for a second day as teachers poured into the Capitol.
Hundreds more people, many of them students from the nearby University of Wisconsin, slept in the rotunda for a second night.
“We are all willing to come to the table, we’ve have all been willing from day one,” said Madison teacher Rita Miller. “But you can’t take A, B, C, D and everything we’ve worked for in one fell swoop.”
The head of the 98,000-member statewide teachers union called on all Wisconsin residents to come to the Capitol on Thursday for the votes in the Senate and Assembly.
“Our goal is not to close schools, but instead to remain vigilant in our efforts to be heard,” said Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell.
The proposal marks a dramatic shift for Wisconsin, which passed a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959 and was the birthplace of the national union representing all non-federal public employees.
The same situation is happening at the Ohio Statehouse as about 1,800 have joined protests there.
Public workers jammed the Statehouse today as the Ohio Senate continued to hear testimony on a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees and change the rights of local government employees. The workers, many wearing bright red T-shirts, filled the Statehouse atrium and rotunda while others milled about outside. They voiced their opposition loudly, sometimes echoing into the Senate hearing room and competing with the speakers testifying in support of Senate Bill 5. The State Highway Patrol estimated the crowd at 1,800
Attempts to break state employees unions are also being made in Louisiana.