Union Protests Continue, Teachers Call In Sick Opposing WI Gov’s Proposals

Demonstrators outside the Wisconsin state Capitol, February 16, 2011.
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The protests against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) proposals to roll back public employee unions rights are continuing Wednesday, with schools in the state capital Madison closing as the result of teachers calling in sick en masse.

Under Walker’s plan, as TPM has previously posted, most state workers would no longer be able to negotiate for better pensions or health benefits or anything other than higher salaries, which couldn’t rise at a quicker pace than the Consumer Price Index. Walker and state Republican leaders have said the plan is necessary to deal with the state’s budget shortfall.

According to the Associated Press: “The proposal would effectively remove unions’ right to negotiate in any meaningful way. Local law enforcement and fire employees, as well as state troopers and inspectors would be exempt.”

In Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal reports, School Superintendent Dan Nerad was forced to close the schools today after 40 percent out of 2,600 members of the teachers union called in sick. The teachers’ move was spurred by Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews, who urged members to call in sick and instead attend a rally at the state Capitol.

From the State Journal’s report:

The campaign is the first coordinated absence by Madison school employees in 16 years, Matthews said.

“We have only one day where we can make a difference, and it’s because of the ridiculous means by which the governor tried to shove this down the throats of public employees,” Matthews said.

On the other hand, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that there have been no signs of higher teacher absences in Milwaukee.

In addition, as the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee reports, over a thousand demonstrators gathered Tuesday outside Walker’s home (he has not as of yet moved into the governor’s mansion near Madison) in Wauwatosa, after marching there from the nearby AFL-CIO building. The line of people was reportedly ten blocks long, while Walker’s home was dark inside.

As the Journal-Sentinel also reports, a legislative budget committee hearing where members of the public could speak lasted for 17 hours, going until 3 a.m., when Republicans ended the meeting. The Democratic lawmakers on the committee, however, continued to hear members of the public, breaking only at 8:30 a.m. to move to another room and start again at 9 a.m.

On Tuesday, over 10,000 people gathered at the state Capitol, to demonstrate against the proposal.

Late Update: Jessica Arp, a reporter for the local CBS affiliate, has uploaded this video from inside the state Capitol today:

(Photo of protestors courtesy of Emily Mills)

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