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Protests spread to campus; UW-L faculty to proceed with union vote

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University of Wisconsin-La Crosse employees said Thursday they are willing to sacrifice to help balance the state budget but don’t want to lose their rights to negotiate as a group.

“We don’t want to take an unfair share of the bread,” said Susan Crutchfield, chairwoman of the English department. “But we won’t take the crumbs from a table where we weren’t even given a seat.”

Crutchfield was one of several people to speak at a noon rally that drew several hundred people who chanted “What’s disgusting? Union busting” in response to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget repair bill.

The bill was supposed to come before the full Senate on Thursday before Democrats left the state, denying the remaining 19 Republicans a quorum.

The measure would require state and local government workers to pay half of the cost of their annual pension payment, estimated to be 5.8% of salary in 2011, and at least 12.6 percent of their health care premiums. It also strips most of the state’s 175,000 public workers of the right to collective bargaining.

Walker says it will save $30 million by June and $300 over the next two years, helping to patch a $137 million deficit.

“This bill is clearly an assault on unions,” said lecturer Elise Denlinger, who called it a “serious injustice” to take away the right to negotiate wages and working conditions.

George Planavsky said it was the first protest he’d attended since the 1970s.

“What is happening is totally wrong,” the child psychiatrist said. “If we don’t wake up, we’re going to see the end of democracy.”

Jesse Campo, a senior political science major from Lake Geneva, Wis., said he hopes to stay in Wisconsin and work for the state government.

“I want to be the No. 1 state in the union for education,” he said. “Not No. 50.”

Craig Nestor, a retired roofer and local government watchdog, staged a one-man counter protest, holding a sign that read “State Employees! Scared? Join the rest of us!”

“They’ve been too powerful,” Nestor said of the unions.

Despite the likelihood of Walker’s bill passing a Republican-controlled Legislature this week, UW-L faculty plan to go ahead with a vote next week to form a bargaining unit.

Beth Cherne, an associate professor of theater and member of the organizing committee, said Walker’s proposal has galvanized support among the faculty, and she expects they will vote to unionize.

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