Wisconsin labor leaders kicked off a statewide tour Wednesday night in La Crosse to mark the one-year anniversary of a Republican-backed bill that curbed collective bargaining for public workers and call for the ouster of Gov. Scott Walker.
About 150 labor supporters — and half a dozen Walker loyalists — attended the rally in Copeland Park where local public sector workers talked about the impact of the GOP budget reforms.
The eight-city AFL-CIO tour will culminate with a March 10 rally in Madison.
“It’s all about taking our government back — the middle class taking our government back,” said Marty Beil, head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. “It’s not just public unions.”
Representatives of the Western Wisconsin Building and Construction Trades Council — a consortium of 13 trade unions — were on hand to serve brats and show support.
“An injury to one of us is an injury to all of us,” said council president Dave Branson.
Beil, who delivered a fiery and expletive-riddled stump speech vowing to defeat Walker and restore Democratic control to the Senate and Assembly, said he’s not seen any sign of waning enthusiasm in the year since Walker signed Act 10 into law. As evidence, he pointed to the more than 1 million signatures collected this winter in a petition to recall Walker.
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Recall supporters heard from Mary Serwe, a 21-year-old student from Milwaukee who said she dropped out of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse because she couldn’t afford the tuition and feared she wouldn’t be able to find a local job as a teacher.
They heard from Ed Ludwig, a teacher at Hamilton Elementary and president of the local teachers union, who complained that public schools are now forced to choose between core classes and vocational programs that train students for in-demand trades like welding.
“It’s time to stop this attack on our children’s future,” he said.
They heard from Jeff Murphy, president of the local firefighters union, whose members saw their health insurance deductibles soar.
“We’re chasing new firefighters and police to other states,” he said.
Education, health care, the right to vote — “the kind of state we want to leave our children, it’s all at stake,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.
Nearby, a handful of Walker supporters stood by an RV holding signs. One man, who wouldn’t give his name, called to the recall supporters as they left, “Bye, bye, unions.”
Greg Luce said, “We just appreciate a governor trying to hold the line against unions.”