|Rep. Phil Barnhart says Wisconsin is waking up America|
Huge labor rally in Eugene calls for solidarity
Words & Photos by Ted Taylor
Collective bargaining is under attack in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Indiana, Idaho, Florida, Michigan and elsewhere. Oregon would likely be on that growing list if our state had elected Chris Dudley for governor last year, or if just one more Republican had been elected to break the tie in the Oregon House of Representatives. What will happen in the next election? Unions and their members are worried, and are calling for public support.
|Karen Williams defends environmental workers|
A workers solidarity rally to "help create a Wisconsin-Oregon connection" drew a huge sign-waving crowd March 11 at the Free Speech Plaza downtown. It was one of the largest demonstrations seen in Eugene in recent years. The crowd, estimated at 400 to 500, filled the plaza to overflowing; but TV cameras and The Register-Guard were absent, their attention turned to the disaster in Japan and the possible tsunami on the Oregon Coast.
The boisterous labor rally also recognized the catastrophe in Japan and observed a moment of silence in honor of the victims. As if on queue, even the stream of honking cars going by went silent.
The long line-up of speakers was introduced by local AFSCME President Gary Gillespie, who works as a library aide at the Eugene Public Library.
"We're union power," said the first speaker, Ken Allen, AFSCME executive director of Council 75. "We need to think about one thing for our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin on Monday. Their state worker contract expires over this weekend."
Allen described how Wisconsin state workers will now have no salary schedule, will pay 30 percent more for health care, will no longer have seniority rights, no grievance or arbitration rights, and no bidding for shift work or days off.
"I know there are city workers and county workers here, AFSCME members from all over state," he said. "Are we going to allow that to happen in Oregon? Hell no. This is an attack on all of us."
Jodi Jostmeyer, an SEIU member who works for the Department of Human Services, asked the crowd, "Why are these Wisconsin senators so invested in taking away our collective bargaining rights? Was it about the state's deficits? Was it about our fat-cat pensions and health insurance? Was it about stripping away our voice and our vote? Collective bargaining is fundamentally about giving workers the power to stand up to the bosses, the banks, the corporations, and the billionaires who are calling the shots. The only answer to organized greed is organized labor."
"Here in Oregon," she said, "we dodged this bite by only 19,000 votes for governor and 250 votes for Alan Bates in the Senate. It can happen here. We must stand united and continue our fight for fair contracts, and stand up for fairness for all workers everywhere."
Jostmeyer asked union members to join the picketing at US Bank locations in Salem and around Oregon at noon March 18. "US Bank is one of the thousands of private contracts funded by public dollars through the state of Oregon and it is one of the worst. They administer unemployment benefits and child support payments … and charge excessive fees when unemployed workers and single parents withdraw their money."
Deb Kidney, an AFSCME International training coordinator and former 911 operator, was in Madison, Wisc., Feb. 21, and said, "I saw people waking up to the reality of losing a right they had taken for granted for years. I saw people just like you, just like us: corrections officers, nurses, teachers, child care providers, field workers, auto workers, SEIU, AFSCME, and of course union members and community members who were standing together by the thousands."
Kidney said the Eugene rally reverberates. "Every time the folks in Madison see things like this they are so happy and so heartened to know that folks all over the U.S. and all over the world are supporting them." She urged the crowd to "Get out of your bubble. We all think the same, but we have to talk to our friends, our families, our neighbors, and have these conversations every day, because this could happen here. It's about freedom."
Standing up on top of the concrete wall podium to speak was Kevin Cronin of Lane Student Democrats Community Action Committee at LCC. He said his father worked 60 hours a week and he was not in a union. "Today, family wage jobs are under attack," he said. "It's time for us to take action, it's time to say ïNot in my city, not in my county, not in my state, not in my America.'"
Michael Carrigan, community organizer from CALC, said his organization is concerned about the "hundreds of billions of dollars that are going to the military, and the billions going to corporate tax breaks, because we want money coming back here to Lane County to pay for schools and social workers and to pay your salaries because you are the ones who are making this world a better place to live."
Carrigan said the work that unions have done "have benefited all of us, whether we are union members or not. Our country is a better place because of you and because of unions. If we come together we can win. Say no to corporate greed and yes to justice."
Bob Bussel, director of the Labor Education and Research Center at UO, said, "We have a simple question before us today: Do we want to have government of the people, by the people and for the people, or government of the rich, by the wealthy and for the powerful?"
"What they've been trying to do is divide us," Bussel said. "They thought they could divide the public sector against the private sector; (Gov.) Scott Walker thought he could cut a deal with the police and the firefighters; they are trying to divide union leaders and union members; but we discovered our solidarity, our secret weapon, our bedrock."
"Scott Walker said in Wisconsin they can't afford collective bargaining; it's too expensive, it's too inefficient, it takes too much time. Sisters and brothers, I submit to you that that's the language of the autocrat and tyrant. That's what we hear from dictators in the Middle East," said Bussel.
Bussel provided an example of why unions matter: "When AFSCME and SEIU organized childcare and homecare workers we found that collective bargaining transforms people's lives: They got health insurance, worker's compensation, better pay; but they also got something that was even more important: dignity, respect, and a voice. That's what we're defending. Are we ready to educate, agitate and organize?"
Mohammad Jamali of the UO told the crowd, "I'm half American, half Tunisian, and we have started a cascade of revolution and freedom, so this is a great year for me. I want to relay a message from Wisconsin that is vibrating all over America that corporations have awaked a sleeping giant called the middle class and working people and their message is: We have had it. We have had it. This is a country of one person, one vote, and guess what? There's a lot more of us than there is of them."
Karen Williams works at DEQ, where the agency's budget is under attack. "My job is to restore rivers so they are healthy for people to swim in and safe for fish," she said to cheers from the crowd. "I am honored to have a job where I can come to work in the morning and feel like I can help make the world a better place to live in."
Williams voiced her concerns about attitudes she has heard: "There are some out there who would have us believe that we can't have a healthy environment and economic progress, that they are mutually exclusive. In fact, scientifically sound collaborative environmental regulation is an integral part of a growing economy. Environmental protection saves tens of millions of dollars in public health costs. Our battle, more than ever, is to win the hearts and minds of people across the country."
State Rep. Phil Barnhart spoke next and said, "Wisconsin has the capacity to be a very good thing for us, because it wakes us up. It shows us what can happen when we sleep. The Koch brothers and their ilk do not sleep. They work hard to figure out how they can get all of your money, not just some of it."
Billy Barker works for Albertina Kerr Centers, which provides services to children, adults and families with emotional or mental health challenges. He told about the time when Albertina Kerr was taken over by a big corporation and he was promoted to management. He attended meetings about how to bust unions. "They hired a guy who drove a $200,000 Mercedes and was a personal friend of the Bush family, who was paid somewhere between $75,000 and $80,000 to bust the union." Barker asked for his lower-level job back. "And do you know why I wanted to do that?" he yelled. "Because I wanted to join the union." He went to work organizing and said, "I looked that union-busting lawyer in the eye and after we won every single point of our contract in federal mediation he told me that had never happened to him before. We work we win."
The crowd joined in, chanting, "We work, we win."
Tom Chamberlain is a firefighter and president of Oregon AFL-CIO. "Let's say what's really going on in the country," he said. "We're engaged in class warfare … In Wisconsin there was no financial crisis until Scott Walker started paying back his corporate cronies. Those rich folks who have 80 percent of the wealth in this country look at the world differently, through a prism of me, and we look at the world through the prism of us. … What Mr. Walker did was make it cool to be union. I'm proud to say to you: I am union. I am union." More chanting.
Following the rally, the crowd marched off to the state offices on 7th Avenue to support AFSCME and SEIU members in their current contract bargaining talks. Along the way the marchers chanted a call and refrain: "Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like."
See more photos at www.eugeneweekly.com
A Guide to the Acronyms
´ AFSCME is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Oregon AFSCME held its biennial convention in Eugene March 11-13 with 200 delegates, staff and guests. AFSCME was founded in Wisconsin in 1936 and has about 1.4 million members. AFSCME is the largest union affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which has roots going back to 1886.
´ SEIU is the Service Employees International Union and represents about 1.8 million health and home care workers, state and college workers, local government employees, service workers and nonprofit employees in the U.S. and Canada. Members can be spotted at rallies wearing dark purple shirts.