More than 600 people came to Waupaca’s city square Tuesday evening, Feb. 22, to voice their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.
Organized by unions representing Wisconsin Veterans Home staff, the protest was among several that have been held around the state.
Walker has proposed a bill that eliminates public worker bargaining rights on all issues except wages. Retirement, health care and hours will be off the table when public employees negotiate their contracts.
Among the hundreds participating in Tuesday’s rally were local teachers, courthouse employees and staff from the veterans home. They were joined by their friends and families.
Dee Ives is a registered nurse who has worked at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King for 13 years. She is an Air Force veteran who returned to school in the 1990s because she wanted to help other veterans. She is a member of the local unit of the Service Employees International Union and a board director of the SEIU Health Care Wisconsin.
Ives is also a Republican who serves on a state GOP advisory committee.
“This bill is going to hurt the veterans and our state veterans homes,” Ives said. “Our Wisconsin Veterans Homes in King and Union Grove care for 887 veterans and their spouses. The homes are staffed 100 percent with state employees and 10 percent of those employees are veterans.”
When asked how Walker’s proposal would affect those living at the veterans home, she said her union’s ability to negotiate hours has a proven record of protecting veterans.
“In 2004, we had two veterans pass away,” Ives said. “We nurses found that we had been unable to maintain continuity of care due to excessive overtime.”
Ives said the home in King was 18 staff short of the full-time positions allotted for registered nurses.
“After that incident we were able to negotiate with our deputy commandant. Management devised a pilot program to rearrange the FTE (full-time equivalent) positions for our nurses. We were able to get more nurses in the 2005-09 budgets,” Ives said.
Ives said the veterans home was back up to 57 FTE positions by January 2008.
“In the first six months, we saved $65,000 of RN overtime for the state,” Ives said. “We are now fully staffed with RNs for the first time in 25 years.”
Ives said the bill that Walker and Republican legislators are pushing in Madison will end the union’s ability to negotiate on hours or other issues that nurses believe make it possible for them to be effective at their jobs.
“Many nurses will have to go into the private sector to pay for their college rather than work at a veterans home,” Ives said. “The veterans will be the ones who experience a decrease in quality care as experienced nurses leave the public sector and those who remain have to work mandatory overtime.”