Protesters flood the rotunda of the Wisconsin Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, February 16, 2011. (Photo: Narayan Mahon / The New York Times)
Madison, Wisconsin - In a continuing attempt to stall a vote on the anti-union bill proposed by Gov. Scott Walker, the 14 Democratic senators have left the state with state troopers dispatched by Republican Senate leaders on their heels.
Without at least one additional senator in the chamber, the GOP does not have the majority quorom to vote on the bill, which has been called the biggest assault on worker's rights in Wisconsin and would effectively strip collective bargaining rights from most public-sector unions. Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to give all public-sector workers bargaining rights in 1959.
More than 20,000 people, including students, public and private workers, flooded the state capitol in Madison for the fifth day running, calling for the governor to "kill the bill" and cheering Democratic representatives as they came out of the state assembly meeting Friday morning. Fifteen school districts across the state were closed Thursday.
A critical aspect of the public opposition to the bill has been the continuous testimony, primarily against the proposed measure, and the hundreds of people sleeping in the capitol since Tuesday night. The testimonials, streamed live on wiseye.com, were uninterrupted from Tuesday morning until 9 AM Friday morning, when the state assembly convened.
The president of the national AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, congratulated organizers in an assembly room on the third floor of the capital Friday that has become the unofficial nerve center of the 24-hour presence in the capital, led primarily by the Teaching Assistants' Association of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Addressing the packed and cheering room, Trumka said, "what you're doing here is the seed that's going to grow across the United States ... you've caught America's imagination in saying we've had enough."
A similar bill has been introduced in Ohio Thursday, which would also abolish or weaken collective bargaining rights for public-sector union members and ban public worker strikes, with thousands of protesters descending on Columbus Thursday to oppose the bill.
Doug Milks, a fire inspector with the Madison Fire Department, arrived at the capital at 2 AM with a sleeping bag to voice his opposition to the protest. Milks said he'd be "more than willing to give up some pension and some payments in the healthcare, but I do not see any logic behind stripping collective bargaining from anybody's rights."
As speeches by union groups and organizers outside the capitol continued, the TAA organizers and their allies prepared another chant: "Pick up the trash, put it in the bag," alternating with, "Pick up the Walter, put it in the bag."
"We are trying to show that we can do a better job taking care of the state and the capital than Gov. Walker," said Trevor Jung-Hyman, a member of the TAA, heading out with trash bags in hand.