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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs