David Michael Miller
The upheaval started last Friday.
Gov. Scott Walker announced a "budget-repair bill" that would end nearly all collective bargaining rights for most of the state's public employees, as well as usher in changes to undermine union support. Walker also proposed increasing public employees' contributions to their pensions and health insurance. His goal, he said, is to help make up the huge shortfall in the state budget without resorting to furloughs and layoffs.
Where Walker and his Republican allies talked of fiscal prudence, however, others threw out terms like "union-busting," "dictatorship" and "war on workers." Unions and their supporters were stunned that Walker planned to drastically change the state's relationship to labor without so much as consulting them - and to do so almost immediately. They were also alarmed by Walker's comment about alerting the National Guard to deal with potential labor problems following his announcement.
So all hell broke loose: pitched battle between Republicans and Democrats, along with mass protests at the Capitol all week. Here are some excerpts from Isthmus' coverage of the remarkable past few days at TheDailyPage.com.
Packed throng answers Walker's declaration of war
What if the governor declared war on working people and everybody came? That's how it felt at Tuesday's state Capitol rally against Gov. Scott Walker's jihad on public employee unions.
There were thousands upon thousands of people - pressed onto the steps on the Capitol's State Street entrance, spilling off to the sides in three-foot-deep snowdrifts, extending all the way to the 100 block of State Street and onto the sidewalks on either side. And all of them were united in their shock and anger at what the governor and state Legislature are poised to do.
Ramona Tenosorio was on the steps with her two oldest children, carrying a sign branding Walker "Bad for Education." A grad student at the UW-Milwaukee who belongs to the teaching assistants union there, she said the changes Walker wants to unilaterally impose - doubling her health care costs - threaten her ability to survive.
"I make less than $20,000 a year supporting a family of six," she says. "These cuts would cause devastation for my family."
But Tenosorio feels the "real tragedy" is Walker's determination to strip public employee unions of their right to collective bargaining, and ultimately their ability to survive. She noted that even the remaining ability of public employee unions to collectively bargain for salaries is a farce, as any increases above the rate of inflation would have to go to a voter referendum.
- Bill Lueders
Wisconsin agencies instructed to take attendance
This week, as thousands of state and local public employees converge on the Capitol to protest Gov. Scott Walker's proposed gutting of union rights, state agencies will be making special efforts to keep track of which workers are on and off the job.
The DNR is now taking roll, and plans to do so at least through the end of this week. Department of Administration spokeswoman Carla Vigue says other state agencies have been asked to implement similar procedures.
"This is obvious as all get out," says Dave Beck, president of WSEU Local 1218 (which represents DNR employees), about the attendance system. "It's an obvious attempt to intimidate state employees from attending any union functions."
- Kristian Knutsen
Labor leaders declare solidarity
"Solidarity" was the watchword as Wisconsin labor leaders gathered at the Concourse Hotel on Monday, registering opposition to the budget-repair bill announced by Gov. Scott Walker on Feb. 11.
Significantly, in a meeting before the press conference, representatives of police and firefighter unions - which Gov. Walker exempted from his changes - assured the other unions that they oppose the bill and will lobby against it.
"We wouldn't advocate for anything that will be to the detriment of labor," said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.
Several speakers made reference to Walker's desire to run the state like a business. In their view, however, no successful business would treat its workers the way he has.
"Well-managed corporations don't destroy decades of labor relations with a week's notice," said Michael Bolton, director of United Steelworkers District 2.
- Dean Robbins
Passionate protesters fill Capitol hearing
Even with tensions running high since Gov. Walker announced his budget proposal last week, the protesters at Tuesday morning's legislative hearing at the state Capitol were remarkably well behaved. Their signs were reasonable, too. "Respectfully disagree, Scott," said one. "Stop, collaborate, listen," said another.
Walker had mentioned calling in the National Guard in case of labor unrest, but it's hard to imagine cracking heads over such a sensible response from public employees.
- Dean Robbins
At 9 p.m. on Tuesday, the fourth floor of the Capitol was still packed with labor supporters waiting their turn to address the Joint Finance Committee. Eleven hours after the hearing began, the mood was tense.
People sprinted past me, trying to get their names on the list of speakers. But the committee was no longer allowing anyone to sign up. A chant began - "Let us speak!" - and the noise was deafening.
Custodian Kevin Meicher, a solitary figure pushing his broom, was one of the few people used to being in the Capitol so late at night. Meicher doesn't belong to a union, but Walker's bill will nonetheless affect his benefits. He summed up the feelings of thousands of people across the state: "There's gotta be a different way."
- Joe Shaffer
'I am not the enemy'
I don't normally like to talk about my private life, but today I'm going to, because I want people to understand why Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal is truly an attack on working-class Americans.
I am a second-year teacher. I work in a rural school district in Wisconsin. Many of my students come from poor families. Some of them live in the trailer park near our school or down the street in the subsidized apartments. A significant percentage get free or reduced lunch. This winter, we provided snow pants and coats to children whose families couldn't afford them.
The people who live here are hard workers and proud. But they can't afford the cost of educating their children. My school district has relied extensively on state aid to fund the schools. Unfortunately, the state has dramatically reduced the amount of funding it gives to schools like mine. As a result, our district has faced huge deficits. Last year, the district laid off teachers, which forced it to increase class sizes and reduce special ed services. This year, we are looking at more staff reductions and a salary freeze.
And now we come to Walker. His proposal to have public workers pay more than 5% of their salary into the state pension and double their share of health care costs will not save my district any money. Our schools superintendent rather bluntly told us that the state was going to keep the money to cover its own deficit, not provide more state aid to schools.
Our school could also begin to lose its highly trained professional teachers, because they will no longer be able to afford to stay in education with the salary and benefits cut Walker is rushing through the state Legislature.
- Vikki Kratz
Get up, stand up
There are many, many parts of the budget repair bill that I find distasteful. But anything that goes to make teaching a more difficult profession for a passionate educator to choose goes against every fiber of my being.
My kids have had so many remarkable educators in the Madison Metropolitan School District. These teachers have inspired my children to work harder. They have hugged my kids when they needed it. These folks have instilled in my kids a love of learning that this mom would be hard-pressed to replicate on her own. I need these men and women, and I need them to be fairly compensated.
- Sari Judge
The Tea Party's turn
I stopped in to see my favorite liberal Democratic legislator after the rally. That would be Terese Berceau, who is my west-side Madison rep in the Assembly. She bemoaned the job Republicans had done demonizing public employees. I countered that the public employee unions - especially the teachers unions - had done most of the heavy lifting. $150,000 bus drivers, anyone?
Walker's decision to force a showdown with organized labor is long overdue. The state must rein in its legacy costs. As Walker told the [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel] editorial board Friday: "These are things that frankly GM and Chrysler should have gotten a better handle on, and they wouldn't have been in the problems they got into."
- David Blaska
Protests won't stop Walker's assault
Protests are exactly what Walker wants, because they can only lead to two outcomes: Either they are peaceful and accomplish nothing; or they turn violent and create a massive backlash against the unions and their members. Either way, Walker wins.
He knows this. That's why he's announced plans to bring in the Wisconsin National Guard to staff the prisons if guards strike, and presumably also to quell whatever disturbances might erupt.
The governor also knows exactly what kind of reaction - sustained, militant, disciplined - might put the kibosh on his power grab. That's why he's exempted law enforcement and firefighters from his union-busting scheme. He can always come after them later, when the destruction of other public employee unions makes them targets of popular resentment. Why should law enforcement have rights that no one else does?
Could public employees fight back and win? Absolutely. But it would take a lot more resolve than Scott Walker and the Republicans give them credit for. It would take all-out campaigns of nonviolent civil disobedience, including a willingness to risk physical abuse and mass arrest, again and again.
- Bill Lueders
Walker not interested in democracy
What strikes me is Walker's lack of subtlety or diplomacy. There was an interesting argument to be made for having state workers chip in at a higher rate to their pensions and health care benefits, and that was exactly what they'd done when contracts were finally agreed on late last year (before being killed in the Legislature). There was a case to be made that their union representatives unnecessarily dragged their heels in those negotiations with the Doyle administration.
All of that goes out the window because of the union-busting also present in the bill and Walker's complete lack of desire to actually talk to those it affects. That one thing makes Walker so wrong, and is the primary reason that thousands of people across Wisconsin are now calling for his political head.
The fact that he went so far as to publicly state that he'd been speaking with the Wisconsin National Guard for possible deployment as scabs if, say, prison guards walked off the job also illustrates just how tone-deaf the guy is. Simply mentioning the National Guard in the context of union-busting and strike-quelling will immediately raise suspicions that in no way benefit Walker's goal of putting the state on a better track.
- Emily Mills
Tweets from Tuesday and Wednesday events at the Capitol, pulled from Isthmus' live blog on TheDailyPage.com.
Incredible # of peeps - at least 2,000 still here NOW marching in the windy cold @ WI Capitol
Chants on steps: "recall Walker," "public service in our state/is what makes wisconsin great."
East High School staff member calls in to say that 700 students walked out of school to join the labor rallies at the Capitol.
Dumbest sign of the day: "Walker is the Mubarak of the Midwest."
Firefighters for labor just showed up to massive cheers. Marching around Capitol. Big show!
Republicans won't let citizens sign up to talk since 5hrs ago and now won't let them sit in the hearing room with us - isn't that sad!