Workers gather in Madison to protest votes restricting their rights


People heard the news Wednesday night and decided they needed to be at the Wisconsin state Capitol Thursday: Senate Republicans had passed a bill to curtail public bargaining rights of most public employees.

Late Thursday, the Republican-controlled Assembly also passed the bill, sought by Governor Scott Walker.

Protestors gathered outside and inside the state Capitol, with a large rally organized by the Wisconsin AFL-CIO planned for 5:00 p.m. Thursday.

Steve Shea had put in a full day Wednesday at his job for the City of Milwaukee public works department. Then, at 9 p.m., he went to work another shift. “We worked from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.,” salting roads, explained the 15-year member of AFSCME District 6048.

Shea said he then drove to Madison “to rally against Scott Walker and how he’s handling collective bargaining. We’ve had peaceful union negotiations with management for 50 years. It’s unnecessary why he wants to eliminate it. The steps he’s taking to do it are sickening. It’s an attack on the middle class and labor.”

“I believe in collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is the way workers keep their rights,” said Joel Hoffman, a member of Iron Workers Local 383 from Madison, who was one of many workers in the crowd wearing his hardhat. He said he also came to the Capitol because “I want the right teacher teaching my kids.”

“What happened last night was sneaky and shady,” said Rachel Lockman, holding a “Librarians for Labor” sign. “It showed that the point was not the budget, the point was to smash unions.” Lockman is a grad student in library science and a teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin Madison. The TA union has been a vocal part of the recent protests.

Middle school and high school students in Madison walked out of classes Thursday to join the crowd, including Paris Riley, a 9th grader at Madison’s LaFollette High School. “It’s important for my teachers,” she said. “I’ve been coming all the time.”

Members of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana also came to Madison. “If it happens here, it can happen in the state of Illinois,” said David White, Rockord, IL., a healthcare worker.

The crowd included people who are not union members, too. “Unions set the standard for us non-union people,” said Karen Schlingen, Madison. “Most people do not understand that.”

In recent weeks, many Minnesota unions have sent busloads of members to Madison and plan to send busloads more to Madison for rallies planned for this coming weekend.

“We took three buses two weeks ago,” said Tim Mackey, business manager of Laborers Local 563, who came to Madison with a carload of Local 563 members. After hearing the news about the Wisconsin Senate vote Wednesday night, they left the Twin Cites at 3:30 a.m. Thursday to arrive by 7 a.m.

“Working people are under attack,” Mackey said. “We’re in the fight of our lives.”

Why come all the way to Madison?

“This is where the fight is at – ground zero,” Mackey said.

Steve Share edits The Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at

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See the Workday special section, “Taking A Stand in Wisconsin”