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Crowds Swell in Madison as Budget Protests Continue - CNN

Crowds Swell in Madison as Budget Protests Continue - CNN

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Published by: news4you on Mar 08, 2011
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Crowds swell in Madison as budget protestscontinue
-- Thousands of people gathered in Madison, Wisconsin, on Thursday, protesting a bill that would strip teachers and other publicemployees of most of their collective bargaining rights and increase their contributions for benefits.Demonstrators spilled into the state's Capitol building, chanting, "This is our house" and "Forward not backward," voicing their oppositionto legislation supported by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.At least 15 school systems in Wisconsin canceled class for a second day, said Madison Metropolitan School District spokesman KenSyke, because of a call by the Wisconsin Education Association Council for people to come to the Capitol on Thursday and Friday to"stand beside your neighbors, family and friends to help our voices be heard."Syke earlier said about 40 percent of 2,600 teachers, assistants, social workers and psychologists in the bargaining unit called in sick latTuesday, forcing the Madison district to cancel Wednesday's classes for 24,500 students.School officials in Oregon, south of Madison, said they canceled classes Thursday because of anticipated staff absences.CNN affiliate WISC listed the multiple school closings on its website.Walker has said the measure is meant to address a burgeoning budget crisis, while unions contend his bill is an assault on worker rights."This is all about balancing the budget," Walker wrote on his Twitter account. "WI needs leadership."Walker is asking legislators to pass his Budget Repair Bill to combat a $137 million shortfall through June 30. An upcoming two-year budget for 2011-13 must address a pending $3.6 billion deficit, he said.The bill cleared the Joint Finance Committee Wednesday night on a 12-4 vote and can now move on to the state Senate.In a budgetary scenario being played out in other cash-strapped states and municipalities, the legislation requires workers to cover moreof their health care premiums and pension contributions, although supporters say local governments will decide on health carecontribution for their employees.The legislation also requires collective bargaining units to conduct annual votes to maintain certification. Unions would lose the right tohave dues deducted from worker paychecks and collective bargaining could cover only wages.The bill has prompted protests from public employees and supporters. On Tuesday, an estimated 13,000 people thronged to the Capitol,followed by 10,000 Wednesday, said Carla Vigue, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration.Unions said the number of protesters was much higher.The Republican governor said he appreciates "the fact that the folks here today will have a chance to have their voices heard ... but Iwant to be sure the taxpayers of Wisconsin will have their chance to have their voices heard.""Calling this a budget bill is a smokescreen," said Bryan Kennedy, president of AFT-Wisconsin, which represents about 17,000employees. "This is an attack on all labor organizations."Sign-carrying protesters jammed the Capitol rotunda on Tuesday and Wednesday, chanting "Kill the bill" and "Workers Unite." Thousandmore marched outside in the snow.Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan compared the protests in his state's capital to those in Egypt that led to the resignation of Egyptian
Crowds swell in Madison as budget protests continue - CNN.com http://cnn.site.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?expire=&title=Crowds+sw...1 of 3 2/17/2011 1:49 PM
President Hosni Mubarak.Walker is "getting riots, it's like Cairo's moved to Madison these days," Ryan said Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council said the issue "goes far beyond what's being discussed as a budget.""It affects the very people who work on the front lines who will no longer have a voice in workplace," said union spokeswoman ChristinaBrey.The governor, who took his campaign for the bill to his Twitter account, said he was talking with some legislators about protections for workers.Walker's press secretary, Cullen Werwie, told CNN he expects the measure to reach the Senate on Thursday and, possibly, theAssembly (lower chamber) on Friday. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans, but the legislation likely faces a tougher test in theSenate.Under the bill, public employees in the Wisconsin Retirement System would pay about 5.8% of their salaries toward pensions, upsignificantly from 0.2%, Werwie said. And state workers would pay for 12.6% of their monthly health care premiums, up from between 4%and 6% percent.Pay raises would be limited to inflation, unless a referendum approves of a larger increase."This is not something unusual," Walker said of the employee contributions. "That is what middle-class workers in this state haveexperienced."The legislation would save the state about $30 million between now and the end of June and, if continued, an estimated $300 millionduring the next two years, Walker has said. He said workers in the private sector pay higher percentages of their pay for health care andpensions.The governor visited private businesses on Tuesday, arguing the bill would end furloughs and prevent layoffs."People viewed what we are proposing as modest," he said.The changes do not apply to to police, firefighters and state troopers, who would continue to bargain for their benefits.But the proposed curtailing of most collective bargaining rights among public employees has drawn the most vocal complaints. There areabout 300,000 state and local workers in the heavily unionized state.Of 425 primary and secondary school systems, for example, employees at all but two are covered by AFT-Wisconsin or the NationalEducation Association, Kennedy told CNN.Walker, he claimed, is ignoring $100 million in previous employee concessions and wants to take his measure directly to a vote rather than negotiate.Calling Wisconsin a "state in turmoil," Kennedy said the debate is "not a financial issue. It is about worker rights."His group is calling for more rallies on Thursday to "keep the pressure on."The website for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees featured a video of interviews with union workers."This is the state where collective bargaining for public employees started," one said. "If Wisconsin falls, so does the nation."Because of the budget imbroglio, the Madison school district warned teachers that they would be docked pay if they were sickWednesday through Friday and returned without a note from a medical provider, Syke said. They may face other sanctions.Although Superintendent Daniel A. Nerad wrote Walker, asking him to return to the table to discuss collective bargaining, he also has sai"our No. 1 responsibility is to instruct students," Syke said.Some students left school Tuesday to join the protests, the spokesman said.Many states, including California and New York, are grappling with budget deficit crises.A month after Illinois lawmakers approved a massive tax hike, Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday unveiled a $35.4 billion budget thatdepends on state lawmakers approving $8.7 billion in new borrowing largely to clear a towering stack of unpaid bills.The budget, which increases spending by $1.7 billion from the previous year and closes a $13 billion gap, slashes programs for theelderly, the poor and the disabled, but leaves education funding largely untouched. No layoffs of state workers are suggested."There are some tough decisions that are going to have to made on the revenue side and the spending side," said Elizabeth McNichol,
Crowds swell in Madison as budget protests continue - CNN.com http://cnn.site.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?expire=&title=Crowds+sw...2 of 3 2/17/2011 1:49 PM

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