Rally pits workers vs. Walker

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011
— Nearly 400 people gathered in a Craig High School parking lot Monday evening to respond to what they see as an attack on their livelihoods and that of Wisconsin's middle class.

"It's scary," said Terri Ross, who teachers kindergarten in Beloit. "I could lose my house."

Ross and her colleagues calculated that requirements in Gov. Scott Walker's "budget repair bill" would cut into their take-home pay by about $700 a month.

That's a house payment for many, a teacher said.

Matt Weyers, who is in his third year teaching at Janesville's Lincoln Elementary School, told the crowd he was thinking of proposing to his girlfriend, but not if Walker's plan is enacted, eroding his wages.

"Well, sorry, honey. It's going to be a while," Weyers said.

Rally-goers held signs and candles, chanted slogans and listened to speeches for about an hour.

The single mothers and others who work as secretaries, clerks and aides in the Janesville School District won't be able to continue working those jobs with the proposed erosion of their earnings, said Donna Stenner, chief clerk of AFSCME 938, which represents those workers.

"The only thing this is going to accomplish is create a new class of working poor," Stenner said.

Speakers said the cuts to state- and local-government workers' paychecks and loss of union bargaining rights would hurt the local economy and threaten the quality of education.

The Janesville Education Association organized the rally, which was attended by at least a few union members who work for other local governmental units, such as Rock County and the school districts of Milton, Beloit and Beloit Turner.

One ironworker said he and others in the private sector see Walker's move as the first step in an assault on the rights of all union workers.

"Scott Walker is trying to make it seem like you are the 'haves,' that you're leading decadent lives, just because you have health benefits? It's a sad day," said Ted Lewis, who helps negotiate local teacher union contracts.

Walker should look elsewhere as he tries to balance the stage budget rather than the paychecks of hardworking employees, said Marv Vike, president of AFSCME Local 1077, representing Rock County public works employees.

"What about corporations that haven't paid their back taxes—why doesn't he start there?" Vike roared.

Several teachers said they can no longer encourage young people to go into teaching.

Organizers urged rally-goers to continue the fight by going to Madison today and Wednesday. Some said they would be at the home of Rep. Joe Knilans, R-Janesville, this morning to picket.

Janesville teacher Jennifer Fanning said she knew many teachers who plan to get up to Madison in time for an evening rally on the Capitol Square today.

"We're going to continue this fight, and we're not going to be defeated. We've got too much riding on it," Lewis said.

Winning the fight against a governor and Legislature that seem bent on quickly passing the plan will be tough, admitted Dave Parr, president of the Janesville teachers union.

"I think there's hope the Legislature will get together and say, 'You know what? This is a little too far. Let's see what we can do if we get together and start working with people,'" Parr said.

Parr acknowledged that Republicans in power don't owe a lot of their success to the votes of union workers, but "I don't think they were voted in to destroy unions. It was to create jobs. I don't think it was an anti-union sentiment or an anti-public employee sentiment."

Last updated: 4:19 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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