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Posted at 2:53 PM ET, 02/26/2011

Virginia labor rallies at state Capitol

By Fredrick Kunkle

More than 300 people rallied on Virginia Capitol Square on Saturday in sympathy with Wisconsin workers protesting their governor's proposal to end their collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

Wearing red and carrying placards, Virginians gathered at the Bell Tower to voice their support for the union battle against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) a day after he threatened thousands of layoffs unless lawmakers carry through on his plan to limit collective-bargaining for public workers.

"I cannot stand what's happening in Wisconsin," said Jeanne Wall, 60, an arts educator from Slate Mills, Va. who runs her own business. "Collective bargaining is something people fought and died for in this country. It's like voting rights. It's not something that can be taken away."

Among the speakers were Rabbi Ben Romer of Richmond, Virginia Education Association president Kitty Boitnott, and Richard Hatch, who is president of the Central Virginia Labor Federation.

"The main point we wanted to get out is, we're in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin," rally organizer Joe Cook said afterward. "We see right through the charade that Gov. Walker is trying to sell to people up there."

The rally, organized locally by Cook on behalf of MoveOn.org and other groups, was one of 65 held around the country Saturday. Some demonstrators carried signs saying, "Wisconsin Workers -- We Support You," "Collective Bargaining is Our Right" and "They Will Call It A Class War When We Fight Back."

Walker and several other governors, including Democrats in California and New York, have pushed for union concessions as states strive to close budget gaps caused in part by generous pension and pay packages for public employees. But some Republican governors have moved farther in an effort not just to win concessions but to restrict unions' collective-bargaining powers.

Their supporters argue that it is time to de-certify public employee unions because of the symbiotic relationship they have with the government leaders who manage them. They argue that besides providing services that are essential to the community, public employees also have an inherent advantage in being able to vote in their managers on the other side of the bargaining table.

But labor leaders say studies show that, on balance, public employees may receive better pensions and benefits but often receive lower pay. They also argue that the real battle this year is about GOP payback for the large sums spent by unions on Democratic candidates in recent elections.

"It's about gutting the unions because it's about gutting the Democratic Party," said Melissa Dopp, 47, of Montpelier, who was wearing a Green Bay Packers foam cheesehead in support of the workers there.

Cook, who retired as executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said 45 groups sponsored the nationwide day of protest. He also acknowledged that labor faces a more difficult struggle in the commonwealth, which has enshrined "right-to-work" laws in state code.

This year, the House passed a bill to unions from organizing a workplace unless members authorized the creation of a bargaining unit through secret ballot -- a measure designed to prevent the use of "card check" to create unions by having a majority of employees sign union membership forms. The bill failed in the Senate.

The House also passed a resolution seeking to enshrine "right-to-work" in the state constitution, but that measure too died in the Senate.

By Fredrick Kunkle  | February 26, 2011; 2:53 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2011  
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Comments

"Enshrine" seemed odd to use once, but it appears twice.

Personally, I don't get why Wisconsin government workers should be pitied when they earn 125 percent of market wages, pay almost nothing for health and pension benefits, and have superb job security.

Why not rally for those who have no benefits and no job security and who still pay to fund the plush benefits of government workers?

Posted by: blasmaic | February 26, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Blasmaic, I notice that you don't cite any source for your statistics there. Did you make them up, perhaps?

Regardless, they're irrelevant to the situation in Wisconsin. Unions there have made very clear that they're willing to accept pay cuts and larger health and pension contributions--but they won't give up their collective bargaining rights. And fair-minded people around the country support them!

If you really want to help those who lack benefits and job security, let's look at the corporate honchos who underpay them and lay off hundreds of people at a time. The type of folks whose phone calls Scott Walker is willing to answer. They're the ones who ought to be willing to sacrifice a bit of profit and help out--not middle-class public employees.

Posted by: matt731 | February 26, 2011 5:41 PM | Report abuse

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