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LA union activists to join Wis. labor fight

February 23, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Los Angeles union activists are heading to Wisconsin on Wednesday to support government employees fighting to keep collective bargaining rights.

A group of 160 workers with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor are set to arrive in Madison sometime Wednesday afternoon.

For the past week, tens of thousands of union workers have turned out on the Capitol to fight cutbacks in their benefits after Republican Gov. Scott Walker introduced a plan to strip public sector workers of nearly all of their bargaining rights.

The proposed bill will require most public sector workers to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance. It also would strip them of their right to collectively bargain anything except salaries. Walker has said the plan is crucial to solving a $137 million deficit in the state's current budget and a $3.6 billion shortfall in the 2011-13 budget.

The protesters have shown up in force day in and day out with signs and placards in hand, fighting for their bargaining rights and demanding Walker's removal.

Some, though, say it may be time for compromise.

"This ain't easy for me. We don't have any options left. So we can sit on the floor and demagogue all night long that we hate public employees, but that's wrong," said Assembly Speaker Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Wis.

"The speaker is right. This is very tough. Why don't we let bipartisanship break out? Why don't we sit down and rewrite this bill?" Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca, D-Wis., said.

Similar battles over union rights are also taking shape in other states, including California. A large group of union workers gathered in Sacramento to show solidarity with Wisconsin workers.

Los Angeles union workers are worried that what happened in Wisconsin could happen at home.

"Once one person gets wind that, 'Hey, he can do it, why can't we?' It's a ripple effect and it needs to be stopped at the beginning," said union member Irene Gonzalez.

"This can happen all over the place. This is very serious to take away somebody's collective bargaining rights, that's a terrible thing," said another union member James Dudley.

The issue of collective bargaining for public employee unions in California has not been an issue so far, but a lawmaker in Orange County is proposing a measure that would take away the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions in California.