by Rose Aguilar
February 17, 2011
'I've never seen anything like it...
there were Steelworkers, Teamsters, Pipefitters, building trades
unions and more - unions I've never seen at a rally in 10 years.'
The people power in Wisconsin has become too big
for the local and national media to ignore.
Just a few weeks ago, Milwaukee Labor Press
editor Dominique Paul North told me that workers' rights rallies
receive very little media coverage compared to Tea Party rallies. Last
month, over 700 people gathered outside the Wisconsin State Capitol to the
hold the state's first ever anti-inauguration rally, but it got very little
coverage in the local media. Numbers clearly matter.
On February 15, an estimated 15,000 citizens, including union and non-union
workers, surrounded the state capitol to express opposition to Republican
Scott Walker's plan to strip the state’s 175,000 public
employees of almost all of their collective bargaining rights and require
them to make larger contributions to their pensions and health insurance
"In Wisconsin we're smart enough to know the
truth. We know what this is all about. It's about breaking the back of
the middle class," AFSCME International president Gerald McEntee told
the crowd. [Watch WBAY-TV's coverage.]
Mike Imbrogno, a shop steward in AFSCME
Local 171, told the
Socialist Worker's Aongus Ó Murchadha how union members
surged inside the capital building, chanting their demands.
"I've never seen anything like it. It wasn't
just teachers and union members from the University of Wisconsin (UW),
where I work. There were Steelworkers, Teamsters, Pipefitters, building
trades unions and more - unions I've never seen at a rally in 10 years,"
"The most amazing thing is when the
firefighters came in a delegation. Along with police, Walker has
exempted firefighters from the legislation, but they came with signs
that said, 'Firefighters for workers' rights.' People were crying."
Nearly 800 Madison East High School
walked out of class to join the demonstration.
"Last time I checked Madison was the new
Cairo," said senior Riley Moore, whose mother is a Madison teacher and
father works for UW-Madison.
Viroqua high school students walked out of class
and marched to the Vernon County Courthouse where they gave speeches and
were joined by business owners and city employees.
"If teachers are willing to stand by us when
we need them, we as students need to stand by teachers when they need
us," said student organizer Luke Cleiber, in an interview with WXOW.
They were back in class by 11am.
That night, about 1,000 citizens, including teachers, nurses and other
gathered outside of Governor Walker's home in Wauwatosa
"Kill the bill," and carrying signs saying,
"Stop the attack on workers' rights."
On February 16, Madison public schools were
closed because 40 percent of teachers and staff called in sick to protest
On February 13, at least 100 union workers in Horicon marched in front of
the home of Republican State Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald to protest the
"I've got a message for Scott Walker. This
is my union card and you can pry it from my cold dead hand," organizer
Colin Millard said to the crowd once they reached Fitzgerald's home.
AP reports that Fitzgerald wasn't home and
he declined an interview request from
On February 14, more than 1,000 people, including students, teaching
assistants and professors from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee marched
to the governor's door to express their opposition.
"I have two pre-existing conditions and
cannot buy health care on the open market," Karen Outzen, a research
associate who joined UWM in July, told the crowd.
interview with JSOnline, Outzen said her
health insurance, the only source of coverage for her husband, an
electrician who was laid off last year, and her children, would be
eliminated under Governor Walker's proposal.
In a separate rally that same day, a coalition of groups presented the
governor with the "heartless award" for his proposed plan to rollback the
state's Family and Medical Leave Act. Under the plan, employees working less
than 25 hours a week would lose access to family leave.
Washington Post's Harold Meyerson writes,
"In Egypt, workers are having a
revolutionary February. In the United States, by contrast, February is
shaping up as the cruelest month workers have known in decades."
Other actions you may have
missed this month
On February 1,
just minutes before 250 citizens, including nurses, patients, and
health advocates, gathered outside of Blue Shield's corporate
headquarters in San Francisco, the company announced plans to delay
raising health insurance rates by 59 percent for two more months.
The announcement comes a week after
Pacific Care, Anthem, and Aetna also agreed to postpone rate hikes
for two months.
California's insurance commissioner Dave
Jones is currently reviewing the increases to determine whether they
are necessary, but he doesn't have the authority to stop them.
“We are here because this is the
scene of corporate crime. The bean counters upstairs don’t sit
at the bedside and hold the hands of our patients," said DeeAnn
McEwen, co-president of the California Nurses
Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU).
"A 60-day delay is a small victory,
but it won't alleviate the pain experienced by patients every
day who must endure callous price increases and care denials by
an industry that cares more about its bottom line than the
patients it purports to serve."
"Blue Shield’s announcement today won’t stop protests against
Blue Shield or other insurance corporations," said CNA/NNU
executive director Rose Ann DeMoro.
"We can learn a lesson from the
streets of Egypt and other Arab countries. Public pressure is
essential to confront tyranny, whether you are faced with
political repression or corporate control of our health. There
are lives in the balance. We can’t count on legislators,
regulators, courts or the lobbyists. We have to rely on the
mobilization of people to stop these insurance abuses and step
up the call for genuine reform, expanding Medicare to cover
At the rally, a number of people with
Blue Shield insurance said they can no longer afford the premiums.
Kerry Abukhalaf said her family's monthly rate increased from $420
to $540 in January.
Before the delay was announced, she was
notified that her rate would increase to $640 in March.
Members of groups including Healthcare Now, the San Francisco Labor
Council, Consumer Watchdog, and Physicians for a National Health
Program, also attended the rally.
According to a new
CNA/NNU report, seven of California's main
insurers rejected almost 13 million claims, or 26 percent of claims
submitted in the first three quarters of last year.
“These rejection rates demonstrate
one reason medical bills are a prime source of personal
bankruptcies as doctors and hospitals will push patients and
their families to make up what the insurer denies,” said McEwen.
"The national reform law signed by President Obama last spring
has, to date, had no impact on the high pace of insurance
WellPoint, the parent company of Blue Shield of California and
Anthem Blue Cross beat Wall Street's expectations after it reported
revenue of $14.42 billion. Fourth-quarter net income was $548
Aetna's fourth quarter
increased to $215 million from 165 million last year.
"It is a very good time for profits
in the health-insurance industry," Robert Laszewski, president
of consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates LLC,
said in an interview with the
Wall Street Journal.
The Blue Shield action received local
Watch below video and hear from people who can no longer afford health
On February 7,
a few dozen citizens, including consumer advocate and presidential
candidate Ralph Nader, greeted President Obama with chants as he
walked across Lafayette Square to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce where
he told the CEOs of multi-national corporations that he's convinced
"we can and must work together."
Members of National Nurses United
and Single Payer Action shouted,
"What about single payer, Mr.
President? Stop caving to the corporations. What about your
pledge for single payer? Stop buckling to the corporate power."
"I don't think a U.S. president has ever walked from the White
House to pay homage to the business barons. Usually, a president
has enough character to say to the corporate barons, 'Would you
come and meet in the White House?' So symbolically, it's like a
transfer of overt power to the corporate barons who've been
opposing almost everything he's proposing," said Nader.
“The fact that he snubbed the
AFL-CIO headquarters which is right around the corner, whose
member unions represent 13 million workers all over the country,
sends us a message - that he’ll pay homage to his adversaries
and continue to turn his back on his supporters because he knows
his supporters have no where to go. They are not going to vote
Republican in 2012, so that's disrespect for his supporters.”
"We're protesting the fact that we want our President to pay
more attention to what's happening to working people in this
county and to not kowtow to the Chamber,"
said Donna Smith,
community organizer and legislative advocate with the California
Nurses Association/National Nurses United.
Single Payer Action reports that the President walked within
a couple hundred feet of the protesters and waved to them.
National media outlets reported that the President was hoping to "mend ties" with the Chamber even though the administration's
economic team is filled with Wall Street executives and most
multi-nationals have posted better-than-expected fourth-quarter
profits, but none of the reporters who covered the speech bothered
to interview the protesters outside.
Watch video from Stop the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
On February 8,
some 2,000 teachers and public school supporters packed the Indiana
statehouse to oppose Republican Governor Mitch Daniels' proposal to
drastically change the state's education system. His plan includes
restrictions on collective bargaining, performance-based pay for
teachers, and a publicly funded voucher system that could be used to
send students to charter schools.
South Bend Tribune reports that
teachers jeered when the Republican-controlled House approved a bill
that would expand charter schools.
The Indiana State Teachers Association's Nate Schnellenberger
WLFI-TV that the political debate is not about education reform.
Democratic Representative Craig Fry told the South Bend Tribune that
collective bargaining is really at the root of the push for
"The bottom line in this whole thing
is the Republicans want to destroy the teachers unions," he
said. "They can say whatever they want, but the bottom line is
they want to destroy the teachers unions because of politics."
Teachers from across the state traveled to Indianapolis to attend
the rally, which was organized by state unions and the PTA, and
express their frustrations.
“We are very concerned they are
trying to destroy public education without having a working
knowledge of what is going on in public education," said Sande
Bemis, an English teacher at Riverton Parke Junior-Senior High
School, in an interview with
The Tribune-Star. "I think it’s
critically important we take a stand and let them know teachers
aren’t just going to roll over and accept this.”
Hundreds of teachers rallied across the street from the courthouse
in Martinsville on February 14 to keep the momentum going and show
their support for public education.
"Today's event is to get a
positive message out, that our schools do work," said Justin Oakley,
an eighth-grade teacher, in an
interview with WRTV.
More than 600 steelworkers gathered in the Indianapolis Statehouse
on February 15 to oppose what they called the Republican's
Also on February 8, hundreds of citizens
gathered in Frankfort, Kentucky to express opposition to Senate Bill
6, which would allow law enforcement to check anyone they "suspect"
"There are many of us in the House
of Representatives who will not sit quietly and let this Senate
Bill 6 see the light of day," said Democratic Representative
Reginald Meeks. "We will not stand by and promote racism and
inequality and injustice being done to you, the citizens of the
commonwealth of Kentucky."
photos and a
video from the
Stop SB6 Rally.
And 200 people with disabilities,
their family members, and caregivers demonstrated outside the gates
of Northern California's San Quentin State Prison to protest a plan
to build a new $356 million death row facility, while cutting
services for the disabled.
"If they keep cutting, the day
centers and group homes won't be able to afford to keep their
doors open, and there is nowhere for these people to go," said
Denise Scussel of Tamalpais Valley, in an interview with the
Jose Mercury News.
Scussel's daughter Christina, 27, is
neurologically impaired and spends her days at Marin Ventures.
On February 9,
400 immigrants and their supporters from 41 legislative districts in
Washington gathered at the state Capitol in Olympia to call on the
legislature to oppose budget cuts and anti-immigration legislation.
The News Tribune,
Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire's proposed budget would cut
health insurance for 27,000 undocumented children, eliminate state
funding for medical interpreters, cut job preparation programs for
refugees, and eliminate state-funded services that help immigrants
and low-income refugees apply for citizenship.
Those attending the rally also expressed
opposition to legislation that would require people to verify their
immigration status before they could get a driver's license.
On February 10,
23 workers, clergy, and community supporters
were arrested for
blocking the front entrance to the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown
San Francisco. Over 350 workers picketed the hotel for refusing to
settle a contract with 700 of its San Francisco hotel workers.
Unite Here! Local 2, it's
been over a year and a half since the last contract expired, but
Hyatt management continues to propose contracts that would increase
health care costs for workers by hundreds of dollars a month, freeze
pensions, and increase workloads.
All three Hyatts in San Francisco are
Labor Notes, workers in seven cities, from Chicago to
Honolulu held similar actions.
"In San Antonio, Texas, workers put
the focus on excessive workloads that cause injuries. They
marched into the Hyatt Regency lobby, carrying nine-foot-tall
“body maps” - posters of room attendants dotted with “Ouch”
stickers where workers report common injuries. Arm, shoulder,
and back injuries due to a speedup are the most often reported,"
writes Jenny Brown.
In Los Angeles, 550 hotel workers and their supporters surrounded
the doors of the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, while protesters
dropped a banner from a hotel room reading, "Hyatt - Stop Hurting
In Honolulu, 400 union workers marched outside the Hyatt Regency
Waikiki and occupied the lobby to highlight safety concerns.
reports that last November, Hyatt housekeepers in Honolulu and seven
other cities on the mainland filed injury complaints with the U.S.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), reporting
repetitive motion, back injuries and other ailments suffered on the
OSHA logs recorded 750 injuries at 12
Hyatt hotels in eight different cities between 2007-2009. According
to UNITE-HERE, the union representing over 100,000 workers in more
than 900 hotels in North America, at some Hyatt hotels, room
attendants are required to clean as many as 30 rooms a day, nearly
double what is commonly required in the industry.
Also on February 10,
two dozen members of the Black Economic Council, the Latino Business
Chamber of Greater Los Angeles, and the National Asian American
Coalition gathered outside of Google's Mountain View, California
headquarters to call on technology companies to do a better job of
hiring people of color.
The group also criticized Google, Apple,
and 20 other Silicon Valley companies for refusing to share their
work force diversity data with them. According to a report in the
San Jose Mercury News, the groups are asking the government to force
the companies to disclose their data.
A report in the
Mercury News last year, based on the combined work
force date from 10 of Silicon Valley's largest corporations -
including Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and eBay - found that Hispanics
and blacks made up a smaller share of high-tech workers in 2008 than
they did in 2000, even as their share grew across the country.
By 2005, only about 2,200 of the 30,000
Silicon Valley-based workers at those 10 companies were black or
Hispanic. The share of women at those 10 companies declined to 33
percent in 2005, from 37 percent in 1999.
According to the report, of the 5,907 top managers and officials in
the Silicon Valley offices of the 10 large companies in 2005, 296
were black or Hispanic, a 20 percent decline from 2000, according to
U.S. Department of Labor work-force data obtained by the Mercury
News through a Freedom of Information request.
On February 12,
thousands of North Carolinians marched through downtown Raleigh to
protest state budget cuts and rally for a 14-point progressive
agenda, including universal health care, affordable housing,
immigrations rights, educational equality, jobs, and equal
protection under the law.
According to the
News & Observer,
the NAACP and a coalition of more than 100 organizations from across
the state met for the Historic Thousands on Jones Street rally,
which also commemorated the 102nd anniversary of the NAACP.
"We will challenge Democrats who are
not progressive, and we will challenge Republicans who attempt
to revise history, saying that you are back in power after 100
years of absence," said North Carolina NAACP President Rev.
William Barber. "This is the people's house. It's not their
house. And it's so important we hear from all the people."
"Look at Egypt. That's a perfect example. Talk about the power
of the people," said University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
student Rachel Holtzman, in an interview with
On February 14,
hundreds of Kentuckians marched several blocks to the state Capitol
to take part in the "I Love Mountains" rally and demand an end to
mountain top removal.
The march took place as 14 environmental
activists, including 76-year-old Kentucky author of poet Wendell
Barry, ended a three-day sit-in at the governor's office.
Environmental groups say surface mining
has buried more than 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams.
"The bigger issue, I think, is that
it's killing a culture. It's changing a people's way of life,"
said Kentucky author and playwright Slias House. "We identify as
mountain people, and when those are taken away, what do we have
"It's about the oldest most bio diverse mountain range in the
world being destroyed," said protester Mickey McCoy. "And it's
about the cancer rates and other disease these carcinogenic
heavy metals are causing."
The Courier-Journal reports that in an
impromptu 20-minute meeting with Berry and the other protesters on
February 11, Democratic Governor Steve Beshear said he believes
"surface mining can be done in a responsible way.”
At the group's request, the governor has
agreed to meet with people who are affected by strip mining, but he
declined a request to withdraw from a lawsuit against the
Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Water Act.
On February 14,
300 victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault and their
supporters marched on the Texas Capitol to urge lawmakers to
continue funding family violence programs and crisis centers across
Members of the Texas Council on Family
Violence and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault said the
programs and centers save lives and can't survive if their budgets
are cut. One rape occurs every hours in Texas,
Affordable housing advocates in 19 cities,
including San Francisco, California, Dallas, Texas, New Orleans,
Louisiana, and Portland, Maine, gathered to demand an end to drastic
cuts to Section 8 and public housing, and to ask lawmakers to "Have
a Heart, Save Our Homes."
According to the
National Alliance of
HUD Tenants, the new Republican-led House leadership has proposed to
cut as much as $100 billion from the 2011 budget. This could cut off
750,000 Section 8 tenants from federal assistance, according to the
Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Obama administration's new budget
calls for an additional 5 percent cut to HUD and a $1 billion
reduction from the $4 billion Community Development Block Grant
program, which funds local housing programs.
The actions in the larger cities received some media attention, but
overall, they failed to receive the coverage they deserved.
On February 15,
45 NARAL Pro-Choice California supporters gathered outside of
Republican Representative Dan Lungren's district office in Gold
River, California to oppose his support of the current anti-choice,
anti-women agenda in Congress.
Rep. Lungren is co-sponsor of three
anti-choice measures that would severely limit women's access to
reproductive health services, cut funding to family planning and
allow hospitals to deny a woman abortion care even if her life is in
“Instead of focusing on jobs and the
economy, Dan Lungren has chosen to back an extreme anti-choice
agenda that is an assault on the personal, private decisions of
women in California,” said Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL
“Lungren, whose priorities are
wildly out of touch with his district and with California, needs
to be held accountable for his support of these outrageous
NARAL supporters were met by abortion
opponents who held signs
perpetuating the lie that abortion causes
breast cancer. [Watch video from the Sacramento Bee.]
In Seattle, Washington, 90 people lined the streets in front of
Planned Parenthood to support the health center and oppose a
Republican amendment to cut all of its
rally was one of eight statewide, according to the Seattle Times.
The House is scheduled to vote on the amendment this week.
A number of pro-choice organizations including Planned Parenthood
and NARAL Pro-Choice NY have called for a mass
rally for women's
health in New York City on Saturday, February 26.