Wisconsin protests grow as teachers balk at proposed legislation

“Normalcy would be nice,” the English instructor said. “But it seems the governor and the state Republicans are intent on taking these rights away.”

The bill would require government workers to contribute more to their health care and pension costs and limit collective bargaining to pay increases less than the Consumer Price Index. Walker says the measure is needed to deal with the state’s projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.

Drenched in rain, former Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke arrived Feb. 20 to protest. A former state senator, Wineke said he was impressed by the 14 Democratic state senators who fled Wisconsin on Feb. 17 to delay a vote on the bill. They remained gone over the weekend, leaving the Legislature one vote short of the number needed to take action.

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Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Feb. 20 that the senators weren’t likely to come back until the governor was willing to compromise.

Erpenbach said he remained at a Chicago hotel and his colleagues were “scattered” out of state. They had a conference call the night of Feb. 19, and Erpenbach said they remained united in their effort to stall the bill.

A nation of protests

Wisconsin was the first battleground. But it is unlikely to be the last.

A similar proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights drew throngs of protesters Feb. 17 at the Ohio Capitol. Hundreds more have demonstrated in Tennessee and Indiana, where Republican-led committees have advanced bills to restrict bargaining rights for teachers’ unions. And governors from Nevada to Florida have been touting the need to weaken union powers and extract more money from government employees to help balance out-of-whack budgets.

eSchool News Staff

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