More than 100 union and community supporters marched to the Capitol from the Texas chapter of the AFL-CIO headquarters on Lavaca and 11th streets to send a message of solidarity to public employees in Wisconsin.
They held flashlights and posters while chanting in support of Wisconsin public workers. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed public employees pay more for benefits to balance the state’s $137 million shortfall. The bill would also eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers.
An attack on one union person is an attack on all union people, said Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller.
“We’re concerned with what is happening in Wisconsin,” Moeller said. “What they’re trying to do is attack labor unions across the country.”
Public employees in Texas do not have the right to collective bargaining, the right to negotiate salaries and working conditions. But if they can do it in one state they could do it in other states, Moeller said.
“Labor unions have helped build a middle class in this country,” she said. “For Gov. Walker to just decide to attack labor unions in Wisconsin, we think it’s the tip of the iceberg.”
Tara Cohen, a Madison native, said the proposed union cuts hit home. Her friends and family who are teachers and hospital workers would be affected. She said their whole lives can potentially change.
“It will give power to people from Austin and people from Madison are paying attention to what’s going on elsewhere with our support or not,” Cohen said.
Polls show 65 percent of people, excluding government officials and their families, think the governor has gone too far, law professor Julius Getman said. It is a combination labor union and community issue, he said.
“I think the governor of Wisconsin has awakened the sleeping giant and it’s going to be interesting how it plays out because the labor movement has been much too dormant in recent years,” he said.
He said this will be a turning point for labor unions. If the workers lose they would have gained something, and if they win it will be a tremendous victory not only for Wisconsin but for unions all over the country.
“Similar legislation was pending in other places and if they’re not going to get it in Wisconsin they’re going to back off,” Getman said.
Getman said that everyone is surprised by the concern and magnitude of the protests around the nation.
“By being militant, the Democrats and the union people have shown there is still power in union,” he said.