UPDATED 02/21/11 11:11 a.m.
MADISON, Wis. (CBS) – Some Chicago workers headed to Wisconsin Monday morning to join the protest against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to strip collective bargaining rights from most public employees.
As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, the crowd was about four dozen strong as of 6 a.m. Led by local union leaders, the protesters were boarding two large buses to Madison.
By the time they arrived, there were at least 120 Chicago union members holding signs in the state capitol, along with 2,000 other protesters.
Walker presents the move as necessary, given the state’s budget woes.
“For us, this is about balancing the budget,” he said. “We’ve got a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We’re broke. Just like every other state across the country, we’re broke.”
But workers have been protesting since last week. They call it an assault on workers’ rights and an attempt to bust the union.
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“I think it’s very important to go to Wisconsin and support those teachers serving in Wisconsin,” said Sharon, a member of the Chicago Teachers Union. “I feel that if they lose their collective bargaining rights, we have no rights at all as teachers.”
Scott Marshall, a retired member of the United Steel Workers, said democracy itself is at stake.
“This is really a question of democracy,” Marshall said. “It’s supposed to be basic for democracy that people have the freedom of association. That’s what collective bargaining is.”
Marshall added that even though many workers do not belong to unions, organized labor sets standards for the rights of workers across the board.
“If they bust the union, they lose all of these people,” he said.
In the capitol, Sheet Metal Workers Local 73 president and business manager Rocco Terranova warned that “we have to be here to stick together for all our brothers and sisters,” or else state governments could soon be neutering unions across the country.
Walker’s plan calls for all collective bargaining rights to be removed for state employees effective July 1, except with regard to wages. But any salary increase could not be higher than the consumer price index unless voters approve otherwise, the Huffington Post reports.
All contracts would be limited to one year, with no raises between contracts. Public employees would not be allowed to collect union dues, the Huffington Post reported.
Critics say that the budget crisis in Wisconsin is not as severe as Walker claims. In an op-ed published last week, the Madison Cap Times reported that the cause of the budget deficit is not large union contracts or benefits, but special-interest spending Walker approved for such provisions as a fund for private health savings accounts.
Republican lawmakers say they have the votes to pass the plan, but Wisconsin Senate Democrats left the Capitol to prevent a vote from being taken.
Wisconsin Democrats say they are prepared to hide out for days or weeks, until the Republican governor negotiates with them.
A group from the nurse’s union is expected to travel to Madison on Wednesday, WBBM Newsradio 780′s Lisa Fielding reports.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Lisa Fielding reports