PUBLIC EMPLOYEES STAGE BIG PROTEST IN OLYMPIA February 22, 2011
Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich speaks to Wash. State public employees at Olympia rally on Monday. (Photo courtesy Wash. Federation of State employees).
(OLYMPIA, WA) — Hundreds of public employees and other gathered at the state capitol in Olympia Monday to protest proposed budget cuts and to show a bit of solidarity with Wisconsin government workers who’ve gained national fame doing the same thing.
One estimate pegged the number of demonstrators at over a thousand both inside the statehouse and outside on the capitol steps. The Wash. Federation of State Employees union quotes a state patrol estimate of 2,000 people.
State unions are concerned about cuts to worker wages and/or benefits in the face of an almost $5 Billion budget hole staring at lawmakers in the next two year budget.
“This is a watershed moment in our history, the labor movement and in this country,” Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson said at the Olympia rally.
Cheers were heard as Federation President Carol Dotlich announced that two-thirds of WFSE/AFSCME members voted to offer sanctuary to the “Wisconsin 14,” the Wisconsin Senate Democrats who fled the state to thwart Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to "steamroll" over public workers, as the union sees it.
"If Scott Walker succeeds in ending worker rights in Wisconsin, the birthplace of public servants’ liberty, it could happen here,” Dotlich said.
"The reality is, those in power from Wisconsin to Washington want to blame you, the working people, for the budget mess,” Dotlich added.
“Corporations are doing everything they can to break unions,” said Ohio state Democratic Congressman Kucinich said who addressed the rally. “
“Corporations are doing everything they can to knock down wages. Corporations are doing everything they can to get rid of benefits, to get rid of retirement. But you are the answer….You are the last line of defense in a democracy…workers have a right to organize. A right to collective bargaining. A right to decent wages and benefits, a right to retirement, a right to safety in the workplace.”
Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker has put an electrically charged issue on the table for government workers across the country by proposing to take away collective-bargaining rights for most public employees -– in essence, what would be called "union busting" in the private sector.
Walker says he is just trying to balance the state budget but public employees claim that’s a convenient excuse, that what’s really going on is an attack by Republicans on the fundamental right to organize and engage in collective bargaining, and an attempt to squash campaign contributions to Democrats by large labor organizations, which are viewed by many as the only groups with enough money to compete with corporate contributions to Republicans.
Below is a collage by Terry Talbot of the public protest action in Wisconsin:
The latest on the Wisconsin battle is that Gov. Scott Walker is telling those absentee Senate Democrats they must come home, but he’s still not budging on the budget.
Walker told ABC’s Good Morning America show "They've got to come to Wisconsin, do the job that they were elected to do, do the job that they're paid to do…if they want to do that, we will sit down and talk to them. But the bottom line is we can't negotiate over a budget because we are broke and we need the money."
Democrats who left the state last week to prevent passage of the budget bill aren’t budging but the Wisconsin State Assembly will take up the bill Tuesday anyway and Republicans have enough members to reach a quorum without Democratic cooperation.