Minnesotans react to Wisconsin labor protests

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As protests in Wisconsin continue over a proposed scaling back of collective bargaining for the state’s public employees, Minnesota’s elected leaders are weighing in on both sides. Reps. Keith Ellison and Tim Walz have sent their support, while Gov. Mark Dayton said that curtailing workers rights would not happen in Minnesota. Potential presidential contenders Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann have sided with Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker.

In a video posted on YouTube, Rep. Keith Ellison, along with his fellow co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus Rep. Raúl Grijalva, said he was proud of the workers of Wisconsin.

“We are enormously proud of you,” Ellison said. “There’s nothing wrong with collective bargaining, with workers bargaining with management to come up with a fair pay and good, safe working conditions.”
Gov. Dayton told WCCO on Sunday morning that the policies being promoted in Wisconsin by Gov. Walker will not happen in Minnesota.

“Some of the proposals, like abolishing public pensions on July 1st, are simply not going to become law if I am governor, and Minnesota is not going to become a ‘Right to Work’ state if I’m governor. People have a right to bargain collectively. That’s an earned right over the last century in this country and for somebody to just to unilaterally take that away – just steal it away from people – is simply not going to happen in Minnesota,” Dayton said.

Anti-union proposals are working to pit middle class Americans against one another, he said.

“In fact what’s happened is that there’s been a massive shift of income to the very top,” he said. “The pitting Americans against one another because somebody is making a dollar an hour more or less than somebody else is really a divisive political strategy that some are trying to employ right now.”

Rep. Tim Walz, on the House floor Friday evening, weighed in on the protesters.

“The audacity of their demand? The ability to negotiate a living wage, safe working conditions and a dignified retirement,” Walz said. “These public servants make our society safe and functioning at an average wage of $30,000 a year. They did not cause the financial catastrophe in this country. That was the speculators and robber barons who received billions in TARP funds and then offshored it to avoid paying taxes.”

Meanwhile, Pawlenty said the “gig is up” for public employees.

“Governor Scott Walker is making tough choices needed to avoid financial ruin,” Pawlenty said in a statement. “The nation’s governors don’t need a lecture from a President who has never balanced a budget. All levels of government need to bring public employee compensation in line with the private sector. The gig is up for public employee groups who demand better benefits than the taxpayers who are paying the bill. I’m confident Governor Walker’s reforms will succeed in Wisconsin. Stand strong, Scott – average taxpayers everywhere are rooting for you.”

Bachmann is strongly supporting Walker’s move to scale back collective bargaining. At a women’s event in South Carolina she touted that support.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that the government workers in Wisconsin are losing their collective bargaining rights over wages,” Bachmann said, according to Reuters.

“They are not. They are retaining them. It’s their collective bargaining right over their benefits.”

“It isn’t that these unions are bad or evil, it’s just that we’ve got to get real about what we can and cannot afford,” she said.

At another stop in South Carolina, she said that Wisconsin school boards should consider firing teachers that called in sick to protest at the Capitol in Madison.

“I want to give a shout out to Scott Walker up in Wisconsin,” she said deriding teachers for “calling in sick on work time, showing up to protest and they bring the kids they are supposed to be teaching.”

She added, “At minimum, they shouldn’t get paid for that time. Those school boards need to make a decision whether or not they get fired.”