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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid