After four months of massive public opposition to a Wisconsin bill that strips the collective bargaining rights of most state employees, the law has taken effect. The controversial bill -- spearheaded by Governor Scott Walker -- was stalled after a Wisconsin judge ruled it void. The ruling judge, MaryAnn Sumi, said that lawmakers violated the state's open meetings laws when they hurriedly pushed through the legislation, which invalidated the bill. Her decision was reversed in mid-June when the state's Supreme Court decided to uphold the bill.
The newly-published law requires the majority of public state employees to contribute more to their health care and pensions then they had previously -- amounting to an average of an 8 percent cut in pay. It will impact some 383,000 of the state's employees who are expected to see the reduction in their paychecks in late August.
Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell released a statement in response to the new law that said the move marks "a larger plan by the governor and his followers in the Legislature to advance an extreme political agenda. It's an attempt to take the voices of educators out of our classrooms and, in conjunction with unprecedented cuts to public education, to weaken Wisconsin's high-quality public schools."
Wisconsinites who congregated, at times in the hundreds of thousands, at the state's Capitol building from the frozen depths of winter into the emerging summer heat in protest of the of the union-busting bill have now refocused their energy on the state senate recall elections of six Republicans and three Democrats.
Phil Neuenfeldt, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President, also released a statement in response to the new law where he assured that the fight is not over. "Scott Walker is attacking unions in order to tip the balance towards CEOs and wealthy corporations. The people of Wisconsin will not let their middle class be destroyed without a fight," he said. "The fight will continue in the courts, in the streets and in the recall districts until justice is restored to Wisconsin."
Walker Greeted with Inflatable Rats and Protest Flotillas
While Walker may have succeeded for the moment in diminishing the rights of state employees, his national infamy as a villain of the labor movement makes it difficult for him to feel at ease anywhere. During a June 28 visit to New York City for a fundraising dinner in honor of Reince Priebus, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Walker was greeted by giant inflatable rats and a swarm of about 80 protesters, organized by AFSCME, the nation's largest worker's union, with signs reading "Walker Is Wall Street's Puppet!" and "Stand With Wisconsin!". Some of the protesters sported the all-famous Wisconsin cheesehead.
Objection to his radical policies have not quieted in his home state, either. A few days before his New York visit, Walker was greeted by a crowd of protesters before giving a speech at Devil's Lake, one of Wisconsin's most scenic state parks. Walker addressed the crowd against a backdrop of the lake spotted with kayaks, canoes, motorboats, and a large sailboat with a sail that read "Recall Walker A.S.A.P."
Marty Beil, executive director of Wisconsin's AFSCME Council 24, said these reactions to Walker not only speak to the Wisconsin governor's tarnished reputation nationally, but to the solidarity within the labor movement. "Whether it's the working class in Wisconsin, New Jersey or New York; we will not put up with these dictators and bullies," he said. "They may win a fight here and there, but together we will win the war."