Public Workers Rally in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan & Idaho; Wisconsin Protests Continue; Unions Plan Saturday Rallies in All 50 States
Protests by state public employee unions against conservative government attempts to rescind hard-won benefits and collective bargaining rights have spread like a prairie fire from Wisconsin to several nearby states and to Idaho. Thousands of pro-union demonstrators marched in Indianapolis, Indiana, Columbus, Ohio and Lansing, Michigan. Hundreds of people also rallied in Boise and ten other Idaho cities to protest a scheme by state education officials to sack hundreds of teachers and restrict collective bargaining rights.
In Indiana, almost every last Democratic member of the state House of Representatives fled to neighboring states rather than vote on anti-union legislation supported by Republican governor Mitch Daniels. Still, the state Senate passed a bill that would limit teachers’ unions’ collective bargaining rights to wages and wage-related benefits such as health insurance. The bill “effectively guts the ability to bargain in the true meaning of bargaining,” Senator Earline Rogers (D-Gary) told the Indianapolis Star.
In Ohio, Democrats would gain nothing by fleeing the state since Republicans had enough votes on their side for a quorum. Their version of the union-busting bills plaguing these states would effectively end collective bargaining for state employees and greatly reduce bargaining rights for local government workers such as police and firefighters. The proposed evisceration of union rights before Ohio lawmakers is even more draconian than what’s being proposed in Wisconsin. Thousands of pro-union protesters marched on the State House in Columbus, chanting “KILL THE BILL!” Ohio governor John R. Kasich, a Republican, says the purpose of the bill isn’t to destroy union power, as many have accused. “This is nothing more than an effort to reduce the cost of governance so we can start to create jobs,” his spokesman told the New York Times. “This is an effort to save the state, no agendas.”
In Michigan, around 800 firefighters rallied at the state Capitol in Lansing against the repeal of binding arbitration for police and firefighters, who are not permitted to strike under state law. This was one of several protests in Michigan against Republican governor Rick Snyder’s proposed cut-filled budget and anti-union legislation. A small Tea Party contingent also staged a demonstration.
In Idaho, hundreds rallied in the capital city of Boise to protest a scheme by state education officials to sack hundreds of teachers and restrict collective bargaining rights. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna wants to lay off 750 teachers and strip others of their right to have a say in class sizes, teacher workloads and promotions. Collective bargaining would also be strictly limited. Idaho is facing a tax revenue shortfall of $90 million.
Meanwhile, back where it all began in Madison, Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker is standing firm and talking tough in the face of pro-union protests that have been going on since last week. Walker, a Republican, is threatening to lay off thousands of public employees if Democratic lawmakers, many of whom have fled the state in order to avoid a vote on rabidly anti-union legislation, don’t act on his budget repair bill.
But rather than backing down, unions and their supporters are poised to expand their protests to all fifty states. A coalition of prominent progressive groups and unions is planning to stage demonstrations in all 50 state capitals this Saturday in what many hope is just the beginning of a radical re-assessment of national priorities.
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