News / USA

US Public Sector Cuts Spark Protests in Wisconsin

Opponents of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers pack the rotunda at the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, Feb. 17, 2011
Opponents of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers pack the rotunda at the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, Feb. 17, 2011

Tens of thousands of people upset with a proposal to end collective bargaining rights for public sector employees in Wisconsin have taken to the streets of the state capital, Madison.  Some of the protestors in Wisconsin see a similarity between the recent protests in Egypt, and their movement to retain labor rights in the Midwest state, which is facing a budget deficit.

For several days, demonstrators like Bryan Kennedy have filled the streets of Madison, demanding lawmakers shoot down legislation that would dramatically change their working environment.  

For Kennedy, who is the President of the American Federation of Teachers in Wisconsin, the biggest problem is not the increase in health-care or pension costs proposed by Republican Governor Scott Walker.  It is his move to end collective bargaining rights by unions who represent workers in the public sector.

"What he has proposed is essentially stripping all public-sector workers of any rights in the work place whatsoever," he said.

When Scott Walker took over January 1 as governor of Wisconsin, the state faced a $137 million budget deficit.  The governor says his proposed budget-repair bill, which would end collective bargaining and increase public-sector employees contributions to health care costs and pensions, are modest sacrifices that will help balance the budget this year, and fill a $3.6 billion shortfall the state faces during the next two years.

While cutting taxes and creating jobs was a cornerstone of Walker’s campaign for governor last year, his budget-repair bill took many people by surprise.

"A lot of people are still in a state of shock," said Professor Andrew Reschovsky, who teaches Public Affairs and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin. "There is a long tradition in Wisconsin of responsible labor relationships, particularly in the public sector.  We have not seen in Wisconsin the kind of extraordinarily high benefits or strong union power that appear in some other states in the public sectors.  So I think this comes as a total shock to many people that here is a governor trying to destroy labor relationships that have worked very well."

Walker has the support of Wisconsin lawmakers.  Republicans control the legislature, and the budget-repair bill has already moved through several key hurdles, mostly along party lines.

Bryan Kennedy says the closer the bill comes to passing, the more people have taken to the streets to voice their opposition.

"We are seeing students walk out of school, and college campuses walk out of classes," he said.  "We are seeing parents groups who are protesting in front of schools in support of the teachers.  I mean this has become ... this is not a union issue or a union-led movement.  This is very much a community movement."

While the protests are largely peaceful, there is an increased police presence in Madison, both inside and outside the state capitol building.

Throughout the crowds were signs comparing Governor Walker to recently ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  Though the demand for democratic reform in Egypt is starkly different to the proposed labor changes in Wisconsin, Kennedy believes there are important similarities.

"I find it interesting how many conservative talk show hosts were praising the protests in Egypt, which were essentially led by student groups and labor unions," he said.  "Yet they are so critical of us here.  I do not see us going away.  I mean, what you are seeing in the Middle East, where labor unions and student groups are saying we want democracy, we [also] want to have a say in what happens in our government and our work place, we are going to likely see the same thing play out in Wisconsin."

Many local and state governments are looking at the situation in Wisconsin as they address their own budget shortfalls.  Several states, including New York and Illinois, are looking at eliminating public sector jobs as they try to trim billion-dollar deficits.   New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed cutting more than 4,600 teachers during the next two years.

You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More