Bay Area union members find inspiration in Wisconsin

February 23, 2011 12:26:14 AM PST
Organized labor in California staged a candlelight vigil Tuesday night in a show of support for unionized state workers in Wisconsin.

At the Mt. Diablo School District, various unions rallied Tuesday protesting what they say is the district's inflexibility at the bargaining table. Their signs read "Help Wanted" and as they searched for that, they found inspiration in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin's governor is trying to strip unionized state workers of most of their bargaining rights and the massive protests at the state capitol in Wisconsin have become an inspiration to union members here in the bay area.

In Concord, union members held a rally to say that like their counterparts in the Midwest, they will not stand for any reduction in their collective bargaining power with the cash-strapped Mt. Diablo School District.

"Attitudinally, what we're seeing here is no different than the attitude that we're seeing in Wisconsin from their governor who says, 'It's our way or no way,'" Larry Edginton of Public Employees Local 1 said Tuesday.

"We have agreed to make concessions as never before in history and still, that's not enough. So, they move us to fact-finding, which then moves to imposing what they've asked for in the first place, which undermines the whole philosophy of collective bargaining," said union member Dawn Winder.

Mt. Diablo School Board President Gary Eberhart says efforts to get union members to make concessions have to do with economic realities, not union-busting.

"We're closing schools. We've had tons of layoffs. We've cut $50 million out of our budget and we still need to find ways to trim that," he said.

"No union leader would've wished for this, but Wisconsin is causing many union leaders and members, and others in the community, to stand up against what they view as unfair treatment," says UC Berkeley professor Harley Shaiken who specializes in labor issues and believes "Wisconsin is serving as a galvanizing moment for labor."

Whatever the outcome in Wisconsin is, union members in the Bay Area do feel emboldened by what is happening 2,000 miles away.

"I am very inspired," says union member Judy Armstrong. "I think it was wonderful that they all turned out, 70,000. I hope it'll happen here."

Tuesday's rally continued until a 7:30 p.m. school board meeting where there was supposed to be further discussion about closing schools. However, President Eberhart now says he is expecting to hear a recommendation that they do not close anymore schools in the district and just stick with the two they have already decided to close.


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