Defending Workers' Rights, Wisconsinites Take Over Capitol

By AMANDA VENDER

PHOTO: Barbara J. Miner
PHOTO: Barbara J. Miner
PHOTO: Barbara J. Miner
Fratney Street Elementary School students from Milwaukee lead marchers through the Wisconsin capitol rotunda. An estimated 100,000 people protested the governor’s attack on workers’ rights. PHOTO: Barbara J. Miner

It wasn’t snow and ice that shut down classes at several Wisconsin school districts for days in February. It was the students and teachers who walked out to protest at the Wisconsin State House in Madison, the state capitol. They are angry about a bill proposed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to limit the rights of state and city workers (such as teachers, nurses and garbage collectors), to organize in unions for decent pay and working conditions.

In January, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the state’s representatives passed tax cuts that allow businesses to pay a lot less money to the state government—money that the government needs to operate. This added to the problem of the economic crisis that has hurt all states badly. Then, in February, Governor Walker proposed his bill to fill the budget gap, he said, or workers would lose their jobs.

“I joined the protest because it was important to me to make sure that people in my state can have a good life from the salaries they make at work,” Elizabeth Nelson, 11, of McFarland, Wisconsin, told IndyKids. Mateo Cubillos, a fifth-grader in Milwaukee, also joined the protest in Madison. “It makes me feel proud because I am defending more than just my school. I am saving thousands of schools in Wisconsin,” he said.

Governor Walker’s bill would:
• Limit unions (organizations of workers) to negotiate only for wages, not for benefits or working conditions
• Limit wage increases of workers
• Make unions hold a vote every year so members can decide if they want to be in a union or not

What is a Union? An organization of workers. Through a union, workers can negotiate a contract, a written document, with their boss to ensure decent wages and working conditions.

PHOTO: Barbara J. Miner
PHOTO: Barbara J. Miner

37 thoughts on “Defending Workers' Rights, Wisconsinites Take Over Capitol”

  1. c__o…i think that perhaps if you had a teacher that actually taught you right from wrong, good from evil, US history, and perhaps some basic spelling…you might understand how what we are doing is not wrong. it is a right. it is a right given to us by the constitution of the united states of america!

  2. Wisconsin Parent

    The right to peacefully assemble is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, that is true.

    The picture of little children protesting, however, is only harming the image of teachers and their union, and rightfully so.

    If you have so much knowledge of, and belief in, the First Amendment, you would also know that hate speech, i.e. threats being made by your union members and supporters, directed at our duly elected legislators, is not protected. It is, in fact, criminal.

    I find it interesting that teachers who so quickly heralded the call of Mary Bell to leave their students, were willing to bring them to our Capitol in protest of the taxpayers, a/k/a their parents.

  3. Wisconsin Parent, I am curious about your reference to “hate speech” directed at Walker. Every news report that I have read has remarked upon the peaceful nature of the protests.

    Also, teachers did not call out sick on a whim. It was a strategy used in duress and only after careful consideration, because educators would ALWAYS rather be in the classroom, but we are fighting for the long-term quality of public education in this country, which is under direct attack.

    Finally, the protests were directed at legislators who were ramming through legislation in shady and undemocratic ways, not taxpayers. If anything the protests showed that teachers, parents and students are united in their fight for quality education, against a government that is showing more and more frequently that the education of our kids is one of the first items on the chopping block when billionaires deem their budgets pinched.

  4. I am very proud to attend such an involved school in politics. Also that so little kids can have such a BIG influence in politics. I also am very involved in fighting against the budget cuts and against gov Scott Walker. GO ITALY!

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  8. Here’s the good news for the kids: The reforms led by Gov. Walker saved the jobs of their teachers!

    Emily Koczela had been anxiously waiting for months for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s controversial budget repair bill to take effect. Koczela, the finance director for the Brown Deer school district, had been negotiating with the local union, trying to get it to accept concessions in order to make up for a $1 million budget shortfall. But the union wouldn’t budge.

    “We laid off 27 [teachers] as a precautionary measure,” Koczela told me. “They were crying. Some of these people are my friends.”

    On June 29 at 12:01 a.m., Koczela could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The budget repair bill​—​delayed for months by protests, runaway state senators, and a legal challenge that made its way to the state’s supreme court​—​was law. The 27 teachers on the chopping block were spared.

    With “collective bargaining rights” limited to wages, Koczela was able to change the teachers’ benefits package to fill the budget gap. Requiring teachers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward pensions saved $600,000. Changes to their health care plan​—​such as a $10 office visit co-pay (up from nothing)​—​saved $200,000. Upping the workload from five classes, a study hall, and two prep periods to six classes and two prep periods saved another $200,000. The budget was balanced.

    “Everything we changed didn’t touch the children,” Koczela said. Under a collective bargaining agreement, she continued, “We could never have negotiated that​—​never ever.” Koczela, a graduate of Smith College and Duke University Law School, is no Republican flack. She says she’s a “classic Wisconsin independent. I vote both parties. I voted for Senator [Russ] Feingold but I voted for [Republican state] Senator Alberta Darling too.”

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