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.”
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