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Supporters Across the Country Rally for Wisconsin Workers

Sarah Haeft has been dutifully going to work every day since Gov. Scott Walker slapped public employees with a so-called budget repair bill that would revoke collective bargaining and inordinately increase public employees' health and retirement benefit costs to offset the budget drain of his corporate tax break agenda. (See earlier story.)

Photo by Brent Nicastro

Sarah Haeft, second from right, with some of her AFT colleagues who have been rallying in Madison.

  But Haeft, an insurance financial examiner with the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, has been taking her breaks and lunches at the Capitol in Madison—stealing time during the workday to take a stand with other protesters. On President's Day Feb. 21, a furlough day for state employees, Haeft was at the Capitol. She was there over the weekend, too—with friends.

 

The plight of Haeft and her colleagues in Wisconsin has brought an incredible outpouring of support from other unions, public employees, community and faith groups, and individual citizens nationwide. More than 100 events to show solidarity with Wisconsin's workers are taking place this week.

A new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that the public is solidly on the side of Wisconsin's workers in their battle to maintain their rights. The poll found that 61 percent would oppose a law in their state similar to one being considered in Wisconsin, compared with 33 percent who would favor such a law.

"We regard this as an attack on one of the fundamental pillars in a well-developed democracy, where social dialogue and collective bargaining [are] securing [a] constructive relationship between the employees through their unions and the employers," Public Services International general secretary Peter Waldorff wrote in a Feb. 14 letter to Walker. "Instead of attacking the public sector unions and their members, I would urge you to choose a much more constructive path, which will include that you stand by your commitments according to the current collective bargaining agreements."

Photo courtesy of New York State Public Employees Federation

PEF members in New York turned out at events to support Wisconsin’s workers.

A letter from AFT member Dana Paraskt, a guidance counselor in Superior, Wis., also was circulated to supporters rallying in other states. "I didn't become a high school educator to get rich," she said. "I did it so that the young people in my community will have the support they need to succeed in society. I am a better educator and a better mentor because I have the basic American right to have a voice on the job. It brings me great pride that teachers, students, nurses, policemen, firemen, steelworkers, painters, sheet metal workers, women's groups, clergy, community members and many others all around this great country are standing together today. When we come together, politicians will have to listen."

 

Back in Wisconsin, Haeft's job is to audit insurance companies to verify solvency. "Everyone has insurance, and I am trying to make sure the insurance companies can pay the claims. Most people appreciate it, I would hope," says Haeft, a member of AFT-Wisconsin's Wisconsin Professional Employees Council. Her message to Walker: "We are all a team. The whole state is." She fears the ramifications on the workplace in the absence of collective bargaining.

"We are such a small agency that you need to have a collective voice," says Haeft, noting that collective bargaining shields workers from the politics of government work, including the revolving door of gubernatorial appointees, like the insurance commissioner, who are put in charge of state agencies.

"Who is to say I am going to stay a public employee? It is not very enticing to get an education and become a public employee and be told you are not good enough," says Haeft, a Wisconsin native who has been working for the state since she graduated from college about 10 years ago. The governor's plan is, in her view, "going to affect a lot of people, and it is not productive."

For updated information,  a list of actions that supporters of Wisconsin's workers can take, as well as online resources, visit our We Are One: Wisconsin page. [Kathy Nicholson, Dan Gursky/photos by Brent Nicastro, MEA-MFT and PEF]

February 22, 2011