Wisconsin strips rights of teachers, nurses
GOP bypasses Dems, cuts collective bargaining in 'Ash Wednesday Massacre;' Wisconsin Senate strips workers' collective bargaining rights
In a blatant abuse of power, Wisconsin Republican lawmakers dealt a blow to the working families with passage of the anti-union provisions of Gov. Walker's Budget Adjustment Bill on an 18-1 vote. No Democratic Senators were present.
The bill strips collective bargaining rights for public workers. The Wisconsin Senate requires a quorum to take up any measures that spend money. But Republicans on Wednesday split from the legislation a proposal to curtail union rights, and a special conference committee of state lawmakers approved that bill a short time later.
Read more from Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC).
KNEA members rally in Topeka and across the state -- in Pittsburg, KNEA members Linda Knoll and Harry Humphries and PSU/KNEA president Mark Johnson spoke at the event. There were several KNEA signs in the crowd.
"Wisconsin's Republican lawmakers met in the dark of night, in a near-empty Capitol, and stretched their authority to the breaking point in an attempt to ram through legislation that the public does not support and that will harm thousands of the American working class," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. "Its legality is dubious. Its intent is mean spirited. It is perhaps the most grievous example of how democratic decision making should not take place. The Governor and his legislative minions should be ashamed of what they've done."
"In exercising the nuclear option to impose their will on Wisconsites, Governor Walker and Senate Republicans attacked middle class families, from students to seniors, in their state," said Van Roekel. "This is an affront to teachers, nurses, students, firefighters, construction workers and other everyday people who stood up, spoke out, and learned how much their voice mattered to their elected leaders. The response will be unified and the collective voice of millions of working Americans from all across this nation will only grow louder."
Van Roekel added, "Just listen to Brad Lutes, a physical education and health teacher in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. He summed it up: 'We can't be defeated. There's not really an alternative. You can take away my collective bargaining rights. You can take away my pension and some of my health care, but the one thing you can't take away from me is my vote. I think that's how a large majority of Wisconsinites and Americans feel right now.'"
Thousands of protesters pushed past security, climbed through windows and flooded the Wisconsin Capitol after Senate Republicans pushed through a plan to strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights.
Within an hour and a half of the vote, the protesters had seized the building's lower floors, creating an ear-splitting free-for-all of pounding drums, screaming chants, horns and whistles. Police gave up guarding the building entrances and retreated to the third floor.
The state Department of Administration, which operates the building, estimated the crowd at about 7,000 people. There were no reports of violence as of late Wednesday evening. DOA spokesman Tim Donovan said no one had been arrested as of lateWednesday evening. By midnight dozens of protesters had bedded down in the building's corridors and alcoves. Some slept in front of the office of Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon.
Donovan said officials decided not to try to clear the building because they want to avoid confrontation.
"The more talking we can do, the less this devolves into something unpleasant," he said.
The bill would require public sector workers to contribute more to their pensions and health care, in what would amount to an 8 percent pay cut for the workers, on average. It also would prohibit most of them from collectively bargaining for their working conditions.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the plan's chief author, says the bill will help fill the state's current $137 million shortfall and a $3.6 billion hole in the state's upcoming two-year budget. He said limiting collective bargaining rights for public workers will give local governments more flexibility to handle deep cuts in state aid.
Democrats and unions say the attack on collective bargaining is purely political, and that Republicans are simply trying to financially cripple the labor movement, a pillar of Democratic Party strength.
Rally to Save the American Dream
The Rally to Save the American Dream on the Statehouse steps brought together Kansas working families. They rallied for Wisconsin teachers, Kansas teachers and basic rights. See more photos at KNEA's Facebook page. [How are YOU advocating for schools and families? Take this KNEA survey.]
Speakers said that in Wisconsin and around our country, the American Dream is under fierce attack. Instead of creating jobs, tax breaks go to corporations and the very rich, meanwhile there are funding cuts for education, police, emergency response, and vital human services, organizers said. Speakers called for an end to the attacks on worker's rights and public services across the country. They called for proper investment policies that will create decent jobs for the millions of people who desperately want to work. The crowd shouted chants that that the rich and powerful pay their fair share of taxes.
Signs read "We are all Wisconsin," "We are all Americans," "Save the American Dream" and pledged support for teachers and public schools.
Left: Mike Brunner, Chanute, attended the rally on Saturday morning.
Right: Darrin and Michelle Harrison, Topeka, made coming to the rally a family affair.
KNEA President Blake West said the rally was an opportunity to show support for colleagues. "What happens when your friends, neighbors and professional colleagues are in trouble? Chances are, you look for a way to help. We have such an opportunity to let our friends and colleagues know that we stand with them in their time of trial," he said.
He talked about his colleague, Mary Bell, who is on leave from her classroom serving as the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC). "Mary and her WEAC members have been progressive, collaborative, and true professionals working to solve problems to make Wisconsin schools better and to address the economic situation we all face," West said.
"That is why it is so disheartening that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker chose to make the bargaining rights of teachers a political football. WEAC members have offered to consider a range of strategies to help Wisconsin meets its budget crisis… but the Governor has turned a deaf ear, demanding that teacher rights be taken away in addition to any budgetary changes. And the only unions singled out in his legislation are, coincidentally, those who did not support his election," West said.
"In Kansas, we have been blessed with many leaders and legislators both within the Republican Party and the Democratic Party who understand the value of a positive, forward-looking professional associations like KNEA. We commend them for that," West said.
KNEA members and staff from across the state showed up wearing wear Wisconsin Badgers colors (red and white) to participate in the rally.
Meanwhile, David and Vicky Unruh, KNEA members in Lawrence, traveled to Madison to support Wisconsin teachers. Said David: "I wish all of you could have been there to share the excitement... Many unions from the private sector were there marching in support of teachers and public employees. Vicky and I ran into many transplanted Kansans and received many 'thank yous' during the 5 hours we walked around the Capitol with our sign. There were about 70,00 protesting the bill (police estimates) and about 1,200 counter demonstrators. As the poll that Rachel Madow shared while broadcasting from Free State Brewery tonight indicates, the tide of public opinion has changed to support the right to bargain for teachers and other public employees. I hope to get back to Madison... meanwhile, thanks for all you are doing to keep Kansas safe for students and teachers.
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