Demonstrations continued today in at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal — which in addition to requiring greater contributions from public employees to their benefits packages, would also strip public employees of most collective bargaining rights. And today, pro-Walker protesters turned out, as well — but were seriously outnumbered by the continued throngs of pro-union demonstrators.
The pro-Walker Tea Party rally featured something of all-star cast: Andrew Breitbart, Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher, Herman Cain and more. However, every estimate in the media has shown that the pro-Walker demonstration was outnumbered several times over by the pro-union demonstrators.
Reuters reports: “Both sides drew thousands to the state capital Madison on Saturday — unofficial estimates put the total near 40,000 — but opponents appeared to have several times as many as those backed by Tea Party groups, the first appearance by members of the conservative, limited-government movement this week.”
Separately, WisPolitics reports that the state Department of Administration has estimated 55,000 demonstrators — 50,000 outside the Capitol, and 5,000 inside. They also add: “This is the first day there has been a significant number of people demonstrating in favor of Gov. Scott Walker’s bill. The number of bill supporters, however, was dwarfed by the massive throng of bill opponents.”
And amazingly, there have been no arrests or incidents reported. So as a former Madison resident, I must say: Wisconsin is a place where even the angry mobs are polite and friendly.
Wisconsin is currently in a political crisis, with the minority state Senate Democrats having left the state in order to block the three-fifths quorum necessary to pass the budget. In addition, many schools have closed across the state, due to teachers calling in sick in large numbers.
Under Walker’s plan, as TPM has reported, most state workers would no longer be able to negotiate for better pensions or health benefits or anything other than higher salaries, which couldn’t rise at a quicker pace than the Consumer Price Index. Walker and state Republican leaders have said the plan to limit the collective bargaining rights of state employees is necessary to deal with the state’s budget shortfall.
The budget proposal includes other provisions to strip the public employee unions of power, as well — notably getting rid of the state’s process of automatically garnishing employees’ wages to collect union dues. According to the Associated Press: “The proposal would effectively remove unions’ right to negotiate in any meaningful way. Local law enforcement and fire employees, as well as state troopers and inspectors would be exempt.”
As the Wisconsin State Journal reports, the union leaders are saying they are willing to negotiate with Walker on the financial concession regarding workers’ contributions to their benefits packages — but they want the collective bargaining and other anti-union provisions taken out. “We want to say loud and clear — it is not about those concessions,” said Mary Bell, head of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, in a conference call with reporters. “For my members, it’s about retaining a voice in their professions.”
But as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports, Walker’s office is insisting that he will not compromise on the budget’s provisions against union powers. And in a statement from his spokesman Cullen Werwie, those same provisions are pitched as a favor to the public employees themselves:
“Gov. Walker has repeatedly said that we won’t negotiate the budget and we can’t balance the budget on a hope and a prayer,” Werwie said in the statement. “That remains true. State and local government need the flexibility to manage this and future budget crises. In addition, as government workers pay a modest amount toward their pension and healthcare premium, about half the national average, it is fair to give them the choice of additional savings on their union dues.”
Special thanks to Phil Ejercito for Dane101.com for photo.