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

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Report: US to Sail Warships Near Disputed S. China Sea Islands

Move will signal nonrecognition of Chinese territorial claims over area, Financial Times reports, citing senior US official More

Study Describes Ancient Deltas, Lakes on Mars

Research builds on recent NASA announcement that water flows on red planet today More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs