On the Ground in Madison: NFFE National Vice President John Obst Shares His Rally ExperienceWednesday, February 23, 2011
(National Federation of Federal Employees)
“DON’T TAKE MY RIGHTS AWAY – I’M NOT DONE WITH THEM YET!!” read one of the most poignant signs held by thousands of protesters who have peacefully “overrun” the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. Newly elected Republican Governor Walker used exaggerated claims of a budget crisis to demand that government workers pay more toward their retirement and health benefits – and his budget bill also proposes to strip away collective bargaining rights for all except police officers and firefighters.
Some 50 years ago, Wisconsin was the first State to grant collective bargaining to government workers. It was also was the first State to enact workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits. With such a progressive and enlightened history, it is especially hard to swallow this bitter pill from state Republicans.
Regarding the budget, it should be noted that one of the first things that Republican Walker and the Republican Assembly and Senate did was to pass tax DECREASES for businesses. These tax cuts were unfunded and will cost over $100 million over two years. Walker told the citizens of Wisconsin that he would later disclose where that money would come from. And now we know: it is coming out of the pockets of government employees.
It should be noted that State employees already have suffered a pay cut each of the two past years through furloughs. Further, State employees had past agreements where they traded higher salaries for better benefits, and now they are unfairly being called “fat cats”. Pay comparisons between State and private sector employees show that State employees are not overpaid (total compensation) and there are some cases where specialists earn only half as much as their private sector counterparts. None of this should surprise NFFE members and federal employees, as ALL government employees seem to be under attack in this latest round of political warfare.
And here is the real aggravation: public employee Unions in Wisconsin have agreed to the Governor’s demands (not negotiations!) to pay the higher percentages he wants for retirement and health benefits. But Governor Walker refuses to budge on removing bargaining rights for public employees. Of course, bargaining rights have nothing to do with the so-called budget crisis. When asked why bargaining rights have to be rescinded, Republican Walker simply says he has to have the entire Bill as written; there will be no compromise, no negotiations.
While large numbers of protesters (Saturday’s crowd was estimated at 60,000) are drawing attention to this situation around the world, it is the Democratic State Senators who have thrown sand in the gears. Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the State Senate, but a quorum is defined by law as 3/5 of the total (20). So all 14 Democratic Senators -- labeled the Fab-14 by Unionists -- left Wisconsin. With no quorum, there can be no vote on the bill. The Republicans continue to demand that public employee bargaining rights must go, and right now it is the absentee Democratic Senators that are preventing that from happening.
Governor Walker has reacted by announcing that if he can’t get his way soon in removing bargaining rights, he’ll start laying off employees – union busting, plain and simple.
While Walker claims that many “outside agitators” have shown up in Madison, Johanson and Obst saw only well-behaved and polite demonstrators and believe that Walker’s statement is proof of just how out of touch and duplicitous Walker is.
“The presence of Unionists from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Kansas, Vermont and many other states is a heartfelt and needed show of solidarity,” said Obst. “Agitators? No, they’re Union Sisters and Brothers simply coming in to help us.”
couldn’t be higher for public employees and
their Unions, and we are all wondering how long
the Democratic State Senators can hold
Which brings up another great poster
seen at the rally: “One Day Longer!