Union members protest Walker appearance
SPRINGFIELD -- Thousands of sign-wielding union workers angrily protested Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s speech before business leaders in Springfield Tuesday
The gathering outside the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel at some points seemed more rock concert than political rally, among other things featuring two 20-foot inflatable, red-eyed rats and a taller cutout of Walker with the words "Don't Badger Us" on it.
Walker’s signature on a bill that severely curtailed the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions have made him an enemy to organized labor nationwide.
Shelley Brown, an unemployed resident of Decatur, stood outside the hotel brandishing a sign featuring a giant middle finger that was surrounded by the words: “Scott Walker Go Home.”
“Scott Walker is a union buster, and he signs laws that are against women’s rights. He’s trouble,” Brown said. “We don’t need him in Illinois. He did enough in Wisconsin.”
Springfield police estimated that 3,500 to 4,000 people attended the rally, said Ernie Slottag, the city’s communications director.
Walker’s efforts to restrict bargaining rights were an obvious target at Tuesday’s rally, but some of his other policies drew the protesters’ ire as well.
Robert Guy, state director of the United Transportation Union-Illinois Legislative Board, criticized Walker’s decision to forego federal funding of high-speed rail between Madison, Wis., and Milwaukee, which he said cost Wisconsin residents hundreds of jobs.
“That’s not only snubbing the president, that’s also snubbing the residents of Wisconsin,” Guy said.
Earlier this month, Walker also signed legislation that repealed a 2009 Wisconsin law that gave workers, especially women, more legal avenues to fight wage discrimination.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Jim Alderson, a retired Illinois Department of Transportation worker, about what some rally-goers called Walker’s “war on women.”
The “Unwelcome Walker” rally featured a number of union officials and labor supporters from Illinois and Wisconsin who praised the value and values of unions.
“This nation was built on blood, sweat and tears. Since 1870, one of the forces behind the blood, sweat and tears was labor unions,” said the Rev. T. Ray McJunkins, pastor of Union Baptist Church at 1405 E. Monroe St. “The voice of the labor union, the strength of the labor union, is the ability to sit down at the conference table and collectively bargain for fairness and equality.”
David Thomas can be reached at (217) 782-6292.