More than 1,200 people filled Waupaca’s city square Thursday, March 3, to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to end collective bargaining for public sector workers.
Protesters carried signs reading, “Recall Walker!” and “Recall Olsen!” and “Thank you Fab 14,” referring to the 14 Democratic senators who fled the state to avoid a quorum in the GOP-controlled state Senate when it came time to vote on Walker’s budget repair bill.
They chanted, “This is what democracy looks like!” and “It’s not about the money, it’s about the rights!”
Speakers addressed the crowd through a bullhorn, pointing out that Republicans propose balancing the troubled state budget by slashing spending on education and public services, while cutting taxes for corporations. They reminded the protesters that they were part of one of the most massive demonstrations in the history of the state.
While some in the rally included teachers from as far as Merrill, most were local residents who are angry with Republican budget plans that seem more like of an attack on worker rights than a serious solution to Wisconsin’s deficit.
“This is wrong, plain and simple,” according to Cindy Kleinschmidt, a corrections officer who lives in Waupaca. “They’re trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the middle class.”
They pointed to the potential loss of more than 20,000 public sector jobs in Wisconsin, the loss of thousands of dollars of take-home pay for each teacher, vets home nurse and snowplow driver, and asked how it will help the local economy when they no longer have the money to spend on Main Street.
Chuck Whitman is a former Waupaca Common Council member and a county highway employee.
“I’m here to protest this stupid bill,” Whitman said. “It’s taking away our bargaining rights. We agreed to the concessions, but he doesn’t want to talk with us.”
“I’m opposed to the changes they’re making in the state’s collective bargaining laws,” said Gary Wisbrocker, a Waupaca resident and business agent for the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA).
He noted that Wisconsin had a long history of public sector unions.
The WPPA was established in 1932. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was founded in 1936 in Madison. Wisconsin passed one of nation’s first collective bargaining laws for public employees in 1959.
In 1971, after a decade of labor turmoil in the public sector, Wisconsin amended its collective bargaining law, basically to require school districts, municipalities and the state to negotiate with employee unions.
“To take away something enacted in the early ’70s for the protection of public employees is wrong,” Wisbrocker said.
Other protesters took issue with claims that teachers are overpaid.
“My mom was a teacher for 30 years and she was also in administration. She made $45,000 before she retired. I know people who make a whole lot more, like lawyers. Why aren’t they being targeted?” said Heather Hayes, of Waupaca. “Every year, her pension goes down. Every year, teachers pay more for their benefits. They’ve already been cut.”
Dick Bidwell is a Waupaca resident who retired from the clergy.
“My daughter’s a public school teacher and I’m concerned,” Bidwell said, speaking over the din of the crowd. “I’m here because I wanted to show my support for labor and for the people.”
Doreen Peltier, a college custodian who lives in Amherst, also wonders why her pay now seems excessive to the Republicans in Madison.
“I take home $900 a month and Governor Walker’s going after my pension and health care,” Peltier said, estimating her take-home pay could be cut in half.
Two business owners from Waupaca’s Main Street were also among those at the rally.
“I don’t think the budget is fair. I think the process that Governor Walker and the Republicans are using to balance the budget is shameful,” said Ellen Davis, the owner of Dragonwings Bookstore. “In a real democracy, the process allows for public input and the government listens to all sides. I’m also worried about Medicare and the environmental issues, as well as collective bargaining rights.”
“I disagree with Walker’s policies and directions. I think his methods are anti-American,” said David DeBolt, owner of Originals Etc. “American governors should negotiate, not dictate.”
Carla Nieto, who works at a New London school, also said she wanted the governor to negotiate with the unions rather than strip them of their collective bargaining rights.
“I don’t let the kids at school bully each other and I think this governor is a bully,” Nieto said.
Mary Naylor, of Waupaca, said she was concerned about the long-term effects of Walker’s plans for the state’s Medicaid program, BadgerCare.
BadgerCare was enacted with strong bipartisan support during the administration of Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. At the time, Joe Leann, a former state senator from Waupaca, headed Thompson’s Department of Health and Family Services and had a major role in creating BadgerCare.
As a consequence of BadgerCare, Wisconsin has among the highest levels of health insurance coverage in the nation.
Walker’s budget repair bill would allow his administration to change the rules for eligibility for BadgerCare without legislative oversight.
“I work with low-income families and many of them will be losing their health care coverage,” Naylor said. “Our state has long been progressive, so that 98 percent of our families have access to health care. Thousands could lose their health care and the long-term effects could be devastating.”
Bill Herrbold is a retired Waupaca resident who spent his life working in insurance management.
“I think it’s a bad deal,” Herrbold said, regarding Walker’s budget repair bill. “It’s not the way we operate in Wisconsin.”