Hundreds rally in Love Park for Wisconsin unions

February 26, 2011 6:25:59 PM PST
Hundreds of union workers from our region gathered at Love Park Saturday to support the protestors in Wisconsin.

Teachers, factory workers, and others stood shoulder to shoulder voicing their anger over what's going on in Madison.

They say America was built on the backs of its workers and to take away their right to fight for a better life isn't the way the save money.

Hundreds rally in Pa. capital for Wisconsin unions

Hundreds of people rallied in Pennsylvania's state capital on Saturday to support union members in Wisconsin, where Republicans are seeking to reduce the collective bargaining rights of government workers.

Participants, who included auto workers, teachers, electricians, postal workers and railroad workers, chanted and carried signs while the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" played over a loudspeaker.

Michael Morrill of Keystone Progress, an advocacy group that organized the rally, which was part of a nationwide effort, said those taking part wanted to "stand in solidarity with Wisconsin workers and American families everywhere."

"Right now the American dream is slipping away for millions of us, and we're here today to say enough is enough," Morrill said. "It's time for our government to work for us, and not just corporations and millionaires."

Morrill and some others told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that participants also hoped to deter Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett from any such effort in the commonwealth. Most, however, said they were there to show support for unionized workers in Wisconsin.

"People need to stand up together for one another. That's why we're here," said Boh Wittle, a postal worker from Perry County, who attended with his wife.

One woman carried a "Wisconsylvania" sign, and others chanted, "We are Wisconsin," a play on the football rally cry "We are Penn State."

Meanwhile, several dozen people across the street sounded whistles and bullhorns in a counter-protest.

Kurt A. Snavely of Hershey said GOP officials in Wisconsin were trying to balance their state budget.

"There's no more money to pay the bills. There's just no more money," he said. "You can't run up debt forever."

Eileen Connelly, who chairs Keystone Progress, told the opponents that some basic things now relied upon by every worker, such as weekends and paid holidays, were the produce of union organizing.

"We need to stand up for our fellow citizens, whether they're union members or not," she told the cheering crowd, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News reported. "It's not `what I have, to hell with you' but `what I have, you should, too.'

Protesters across US decry Wis. anti-union efforts


MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Rallies were held across the country Saturday to support thousands of protesters holding steady at the Wisconsin Capitol in their fight against Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening unions.

Union supporters organized rallies from New York to Los Angeles in a show of solidarity as the protest in Madison entered its 12th straight day and attracted its largest crowd yet: more than 70,000 people. Hundreds banged on drums and screamed into bullhorns inside, while others braved frigid weather and snowfall during a rally that spilled into city streets.

"I want to thank you for coming out here today to exercise those pesky First Amendment rights," actor Bradley Whitford, who starred in television's "The West Wing," told his hometown crowd. "This governor has to understand Wisconsin is a stubborn constituency. We fish through ice!"

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has introduced a bill that includes stripping almost all public workers, from librarians to snow plow drivers, of their right to collectively bargain on benefits and work conditions. Walker has said the bill would help close a projected $3.6 billion deficit in the 2011-13 budget. He also argues that freeing local governments from collective bargaining would give them flexibility amid deep budget cuts.

The bill has sent Democrats and unions into an outrage nationwide. They see it as trampling on workers' rights and as an attempt to destroy Democrats' strongest campaign allies.

"Wisconsin is opening up people's eyes a little bit," said Jay Van Loenen, a teacher who attended a rally in Denver that attracted about 1,000 people. "So I think that the move is to try to get people more involved in their unions and create a stronger front so that if something happens here, we are prepared."

Several thousand people gathered for a rally in Columbus, Ohio, where lawmakers are considering a similar bill. Indiana Democrats successfully blocked a Republican bill last week that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment.

Large crowds of teachers, firefighters and public workers also gathered for rallies - holding American flags, wearing pro-union clothing and holding signs - in other capital cities including Topeka, Kan.; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Olympia, Wash.

In Los Angeles, public sector workers and others held signs that read "We are all Wisconsin." Some wore foam "cheeseheads," the familiar hats worn by Green Bay Packers fans.

Covered in layers of coats, scarves, hats and gloves, about 1,000 rally goers outside the Minnesota Capitol chanted "Workers' rights are human rights" and waved signs, some reading "United we bargain, divided we beg."

"The right to collectively bargain is an American right," Eliot Seide, a local union leader, told the crowd in St. Paul. "You can't have American democracy if you don't have a strong trade union movement."

The rallies were part of a campaign by the liberal online group to hold demonstrations supporting Wisconsin workers in major cities across the country. Some of the demonstrations attracted counter-protests, though the pro-union rallies were larger.

Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said he didn't have a firm estimate on the Wisconsin capital's crowd, but said it was larger than last weekend when nearly 70,000 people descended on the Capitol.

The crowd cheered as pilot Jeff Skiles, the first officer on the US Airways Flight that landed in New York City's Hudson River in January 2009, told them that "justice and righteousness will always win out." Skiles helped pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger land the plane, whose 155 passengers and crew members were safely rescued.

Protesters jammed the Wisconsin Capitol steps, packed the ice-covered lawn - some sat in trees - and filled surrounding streets. Several thousand counter-protesters came out last Saturday to support Walker, but they were hardly visible this time.

Capitol police planned to let protesters stay overnight Saturday into Sunday, but plan to finally close the building Sunday afternoon to let crews clean it.

People held signs that called Walker a parasite and a dictator and demanded voters recall him. Michael Janairo, a 4-year-old of Sheboygan, held a sign that showed Green Bay Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews tackling Walker. Michael's mother, Lisa Janairo, is not a public worker but drove to Madison to show support.

"For him to dictate and not negotiate is just wrong and we won't stand for it," the 45-year-old said.


Associated Press writers Tara Bannow in St. Paul, Minn.; Sheila V. Kumar in Denver; Beth Fouhy in New York City; Michael Virtanen in Albany, N.Y.; and Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.