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Despite Governor Scott Walker's exemption of unionized public safety workers -- firefighters, police officers and the like -- from his union-busting budget "repair" bill, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) wants to make one factor clear: Wisconsin firefighters are on the side of labor rights.
"We've got firefighters at the Capitol right now," said 5th District IAFF Vice President Joseph Conway.
Loud cheers met all firefighters and police officers joining the national news-making protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol earlier this afternoon.
"The Governor has tried to draw a line between us and the rest of the labor force and we're not standing for it," Conway said. "Our (IAFF) members are supporting the members of this community because Madison and the surrounding areas have supported us for years."
Conway said while he was not at the Capitol, he and other IAFF representatives would be joining the 5 p.m. Wisconsin Educational Association Counsel's rally in solidarity with Wisconsin educators who could take a 5.6% salary cut under Walker's budget repair bill.
In the event this bill does pass, Conway said, "anything could happen," from more extreme protesting to strikes around the state.
"Just like the rallies -- they didn't start small, they started with about 10,000 people. It's grown to about 50,000 people now," Conway said.
"As time goes on and things get more extreme, people will have a lot of tough decisions to make," he continued, referencing the 40 percent of Madison teachers who called in sick as of Wednesday morning. "I can see other workers starting to do that also."
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz will hold a 5:45 p.m. press conference this evening at Madison's City County Building, ensuring the extension of several City of Madison collective bargaining agreements through the end of 2012. Some of the contracts end in 2011, others in 2012 and some have no firm agreement in place, according to a City of Madison news release.
Representatives of Madison's 12 labor unions, Cieslewicz, Common Council members and non-represented employees will then march in solidarity to the Overture Center for the Arts on State Street to convene the Special Council Meeting.
"This keeps us out of mix for another year, which is nice," Conway said. "We need to do this before the bill passes, if it does pass."