Unions rally in St. Paul to support Wisconsin workers

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Thousands rallied at the Minnesota State Capitol on Tuesday in support of Wisconsin public employees, who stand to lose their collective bargaining rights in that state under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan. Such measures will not become law in neighboring Minnesota, says Gov. Mark Dayton, who addressed the crowd in St. Paul.

“We will not, in Minnesota, let right-wing millionaires do to us what they have reportedly been financing in Wisconsin. We will not let them divide worker against worker. We will not let them divide middle class families against middle class families. We will not let them divide neighbors against neighbors.”

Supporters of Wisconsin’s legislation to remove bargaining rights for union members cite budgetary reasons for the measure. But Margaret Boetthcher, Stillwater, doesn’t buy that argument.

“It’s not a truthful argument on the part of the Republican party in Wisconsin. This is a political issue; it’s not about cutting the state budget. It’s about destroying the union’s power to bargain for a better life for their workers.”

Boetthcher has two nephews that are public employees in Wisconsin. She says one works as a prison guard, the other for the state’s pollution control agency.

Ray Pierce, a taconite miner from Hibbing and president of United Steel Workers Local 6115, sees the Wisconsin proposal as balancing the state budget on the backs of workers. Pierce notes he hasn’t seen the lawmakers who are proposing such cuts show a willingness to cut their own salaries and benefits.

“I have yet to see them give up any of their salaries to try to balance this budget. They want the working class to set there and give up their wages, but they don’t want to give up any of theirs.”

Tom Thornberg, a 33-year Minneapolis firefighter, is state president of the Professional Firefighters Association. In his view, Gov. Walker is trying to erase 50 years of history. Thornberg believes collective bargaining is an effective way to bring employees and employers together.

“There’s no need for him to continue doing what he’s doing. It’s flat-out union busting, and it’s not necessary. The public employees have already agreed to take concessions, and I believe the governor should gracefully accept those and leave the collective bargaining rights in place.”

Minnesota Republican leaders have said they will not use Wisconsin-style legislation to remove collective bargaining rights from public employees, although they don’t believe the state’s $6.2 billion deficit can be addressed without considering wage freezes, pension reductions and cost-sharing for public employees.