Updated 02/26/11 – 4:12 p.m.
CHICAGO (WBBM) — Hundreds of men and women in support of public sector union employees gathered for a second day at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago for a peaceful protest of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to strip unionized state employees of most of their collective bargaining rights.
It was one of several protests nationwide in a show of solidarity with union workers in Wisconsin, where the governor is pushing strict anti-union legislation.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Mary Frances Bragiel reports
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has threatened to layoff thousands next week if lawmakers do not vote to strip public sector union employees of most of their collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin Senate Democrats have fled the state to prevent a vote on that proposal.
Protestors at the Thompson Center said that getting rid of collective bargaining rights is getting rid of free speech and will ruin the middle class.
“Big business and Republicans equal the death of the middle class. Wake up America, don’t drink the tea,” Adam Fielder, a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 73, said. “This is about everyone, non-union, union. If our wages decrease, everyone’s wages decrease.”
Chicago Public Schools teacher Ken Budz came armed in one hand with a sign that read “It’s about the people, not the money” and, in the other, the American flag,
“I’m thinking, will I be doing it for the next 12 years or so or not? I mean, they’re privatizing everything.”
As CBS 2′s Mike Puccinelli reports, earlier in the day at Operation PUSH, Rev. Jesse Jackson said what’s happening in Wisconsin is the latest front in the continuing fight for civil rights.
“As Wisconsin goes, so goes the rest of America relative to these rights; very much like, as Birmingham and Selma went, so went the rest of the nation,” Jackson said.
He said he believes the freedom fighters of earlier generations are marching across the hands of time with Wisconsin’s Democratic state senators who have fled the state to prevent passage of a budget plan that would strip away most of the collective bargaining rights of unionized state workers.
Democratic Wisconsin state Sen. Lena Taylor was at Operation PUSH on Saturday and said that she has no plans to return home until Walker and Republican lawmakers agree to compromise on his plan.
“This is why we had to leave, because they’re not reasonable. You can’t negotiate with them. They’re not talking,” Taylor said.
Outside the Thompson Center, Taylor and her colleagues were celebrated for sticking up for the rights of workers.
Illinois state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) said “working families are being punched in the gut. Make no mistake about it, this is a coordinated, synchronized, nationwide attack on working families and the unions that represent them.”
But not everyone at the rally agreed.
One counter-protester said he’s a Wisconsin small business owner and is on his governor’s side.
“At what point do we not realize that a lot of the reasons why the United States is dying is because of the union opinions,” he said.
More than a dozen Wisconsin Senate Democrats continued to hide out in Illinois on Saturday, refusing to head back to Madison to vote on the anti-union legislation. No vote can be held on the measure without at least one of those Senate Democrats present in Madison.