Public Employee Agreement Protests Expand From Washington to Ohio
In what union leaders have to say is being a national fight, protests against legislation to restrict public employees’ collective-bargaining rights spread from Wisconsin to Ohio.
In Madison, Wisconsin, crowds that police estimated at 25,000 engulfed the Capitol and its lawns yesterday at a third-straight day of protests as Democratic senators boycotted the legislative session. In Columbus, Ohio, about 3,800 state workers, teachers and also other public employees came down to the statehouse to get a committee hearing.
Firefighters Dave Hefflinger and Jerry Greer stood near hundreds of workers elbow-to-elbow in the Ohio statehouse atrium and listened to the Senate hearing through speakers. Chants of “Kill the bill” echoed.
“We’re here to back up our brothers and sisters,” Hefflinger, a 27-year veteran, said in a interview. “They’re seeking to take away that which you fought for all those of those years.”
Hefflinger, 49, and Greer, 39, portion of the dep in Findlay, Ohio, drove two hours south to demostrate the bill. The measure would eliminate collective bargaining for state workers, prevent local-government employees from negotiating for health insurance and replace salary schedules with merit pay.
With states facing deficits that may reach a combined $125 billion the following year, Republican governors and legislatures in states including Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey are targetingchanges in rules for collective bargaining and worker contributions for health-care coverage and pensions.
In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker championed a bill that will make public workers bargain for wages alone and require them to pay 5.6 percent within their pension costs; they pay nothing now. They might must foot 12 percent of their total health- care premiums, from 6 percent. Police and firefighters wouldn’t be part of the measure, which Republican legislative leaders had hoped to get by the weekend.
Yesterday, University of Wisconsin-Madison students remaining of classes at the urging of student government and campus newspapers and marched to the Capitol. There, they togetherprotesters who filled the rotunda to chant, bang drums and sing, and spilled outside.
The protesters ranged from retired autoworkers with Veterans of Foreign Wars caps to Madison high-school students whose classes were canceled for a second-straight day after nearly 50 % public-school teachers called in sick to protest.
“We’re here because Walker is doing the stupidest thing you are able to ever do,” said Clara Katz-Andrade, 15, who came to support her teachers.
In a telephone interview Feb. 15, Walker said he spoke with Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich.
“Don’t blink,” Walker said when asked what suggestions he gave Kasich about demonstrations.
The bills are an attempt to weaken unions, said John Russo, a professor and co-director of your Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio.
“It’s really an ideological battle that’s being fought across the country immediately,” Russo said in an interview while looking for testify prior to a Ohio Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee.
There were 50 witnesses scheduled, and Chairman Kevin Bacon said the committee would hear them with out a break.
“This can be a true test of democracy,” Bacon said.
The Statehouse spokesman, Gregg Dodd, estimated the crowd at about 3,800 and said it had been an important gathering contained in the statehouse since it was renovated in 1996.
The gang thinned when the day wore on, but protesters continued to react vocally to comments from the committee room.
Mixing with them were members of Tea Party groups who staged their unique rally to give support to the legislation.
Mike Wilson, who founded the Cincinnati Tea Party, said the bill isn’t an attempt to damage unions but to replace balance between governments and their workers, who he explained are overpaid.
“This bill is not on attack on public employees; this is not an attack around the middle class,” Wilson, 34, a technology consultant, said for the rally. “This bill concerns math.”
Joe Rugola, the previous president of the Ohio AFL-CIO who also is executive director of your Ohio Association of Public School Employees, said he represents bus drivers and janitors who earn about $24,000 12 months.
“I’m still looking for this privileged theme of workers,” Rugola said in a single interview while curious to buy testify. “This is just part of a national attack on working people.”