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Rally in support of Wisconsin workers

Demonstrators rally in support of Wisconsin workers

on February 23, 2011

Dozens gathered in Oakland on Tuesday to show solidarity with protesters in Wisconsin who are protesting plans to limit public unions’ ability to bargain for health and pension benefits for their members. Their signs bore messages challenging Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to respect workers rights and calling for California Governor Jerry Brown not to cut public workers’ benefits.

The demonstrators crowded together in front of the State of California building.  At the center of the group, a parade of speakers took turns standing on a park bench to whip up the crowd through a bullhorn.

The crowd was predominately composed of union members from locals across the public and private spectrum, and local labor union logos adorned many of the signs. “My colleagues are in Wisconsin, and they tell me that the people there want us to know how happy they are to have support across the country,” Amy Dooha from the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 told the crowd through the bullhorn.

Last week, Gov. Walker proposed a sweeping plan to cut benefits for public employees in Wisconsin and take away most of their unions’ right to collective bargaining as a way to close a the state’s budget gap. Thousands of union members and other demonstrators have been packed into the capital building in Madison to protest the move.

Although Gov. Brown has not suggested a similar path in California, workers at the rally in Oakland said it sets a precedent by undercutting the collective bargaining process that is central to unions’ power.  Many said that it is a more severe attack on workers than the incremental cuts experienced by California workers.

Wendy Bloom and Susan Segal, members of the California Nurses Association who work at Children’s Hospital Oakland, stood bundled against the cold at the back of the crowd, listening to the speakers. “Workers rights have been hacked away for a long time, but this was bigger than that because this was about the rights to bargain,” said Segal. “Really the implications for what that means in the future are really serious.”

“Basically they’re saying no matter what you give, it’s not enough, because we don’t want you to have any power,” Bloom added. ““Any workers that are attacked for their bargaining rights puts fear into our hearts, too.”

Jack Gerson of the Oakland Education Association helped to organize the rally. He said a bus left yesterday afternoon to take solidarity demonstrators to Sacramento for a bigger rally and the Oakland protest was for those who could not make it to the capitol.  “The fight in Wisconsin is critical because if Wisconsin workers win, then that’s going to discourage these attacks,” he said. “But I think the only way that they’re going to win is if the show of solidarity spreads across the country.”

Amy Dooha of the SEIU, which represents home health workers in Alameda County, said unionized public workers are scapegoated in debates about the budget  “There’s a myth that we’re overpaid and have more benefits than anybody else,’” she said. “But most workers get under $50,000 in pensions, which in Callifornia is not really enough to retire. And many of them don’t get any health benefits when they retire.”

Another rally for workers’ rights is scheduled for March 2 in Oakland and Dooha said she hopes it will be larger and more organized. “People really don’t understand what can happen to them here, once this momentum gets going.”


  1. Kymba Khan on February 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I will be there March 2nd! I would gave been in Oakland last night but I’d only heard about the Sacto rally and couldn’t get there!

  2. Amy Dooha on February 23, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Thank you for the coverage of the rally Christopher. I do want to say though-there were hundreds of us not dozens.

  3. len raphael on February 24, 2011 at 12:29 am

    state and local government employees in CA are still in the denial phase of the fiscal situation facing public employers for the forseeable future.

    public employees in WI, NJ, IN have moved past that phase and acknowledge that they will have to make major givebacks in wages and benefits which were never as high as those granted in the coastal cities and counties of California.

    public unions in WI, NJ, and IN have tacitly conceded the givebacks and are fighting to keep collective bargaining and closed shop rules.

    in private industry situaton with private employers with adverse interests to the unions, closed shop rules might well be needed to protect workers.

    Government jobs are different. The employers are elected officials who often get elected thru the efforts of the same unions whose contracts they negotiate and approve. Much the way real estate developers cozy up to politicians, muni unions do also. Completely reasonable, but with the decline in public civic participation, in depth newspaper reporting etc. the situation has often gotten to the point where the government unions have more influence than most citizen groups on issues that matter to them: compensation.

    Not healthy situation for the citizens.

    Then there’s the binding arbitration guarrantees for police and fire in many California cities such as Oakland.

    The unintended consequence of that is that police and fire compensation has racheted up and rarely down since that protection was instituted. eg. firefighters ask for 8% raise and city offers 0%. Arbitrator survey’s other Bay Area fire depts (which probably all have binding arbitration statutes also) and has to give our firefighters the same raises those other depts do.

    Point is that binding arbitration makes it nearly impossible for compensation to do anything but rise.

    That wb fine if tax revenue were rising, and if residents’ income were rising.

    The budget situation for state and local govt in WI, OH, and IN is nowhere as bad as it is in California and Oakland.

    The percentages of voters who are private union members in those states are much much higher in WI than CA.

    But still voters in those states elected governor and a majority of state representatives on platforms attacking the very existence of public unions.

    CA public unions have to wake up and realize that rallies are not going to help them when CA voters realize that they’ll have to chose between paying for the unsustainable wage and retirement promises their elected officials made to union members, or paying for schools, parks, sewers, and public safety.

    Blaming Wall Street for our problems may or may not be accurate, but it’s irrelevant to most voters at this point.

    Voters are going to say sorry but we you have to share the pain, work till you’re 66/67, pay for your own medical care etc.

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