MADISON, Wis. – Facing widening Republican attacks on organized labor, Democrats struck back Tuesday with legislative walkouts and boisterous rallies across the Midwest to defend one of their core constituencies.
In Wisconsin, where the state Senate has been paralyzed because Democrats fled to block Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to strip collective bargaining rights from government workers, the governor warned he would send 1,500 layoff notices unless his proposal passes.
In Indiana, Democrats in the state Assembly vanished, depriving that body of the quorum needed to pass a right-to-work law and limit government unions’ powers.
And in Ohio, an estimated 5,500 protesters stood elbow to elbow in and outside the Capitol chanting “Kill the bill!” as a legislative committee took up a proposal that would similarly neuter government unions.
“Change is difficult,” said Ohio state Sen. Shannon Jones, a Republican and the bill’s author. “It doesn’t matter how many people show up here.”
Unions rallied from Michigan to Tennessee to Colorado to show support in what many see as an existential test for organized labor.
The often noisy battle – sometimes punctuated by shouting matches – played out in a swath of states whose voters in November decisively came down on the side of conservatives. Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio all saw their statehouses switch to Republican control, and the GOP picked up governorships in Wisconsin and Ohio.
Democrats contend that the newly emboldened GOP is trying to eliminate one of the core supporters of their party – organized labor. “It turns politics upside-down,” said Indiana state Sen. Vi Simpson, the leader of Democrats in that chamber.
Unions in all states say they’re willing to make concessions to help states balance their budgets, but contended that Republicans are engaged in a campaign to undermine organized labor. They got a boost Tuesday from a Gallup poll that found that 61 percent of Americans disapprove of stripping public workers of their ability to collectively bargain.