- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DENVER | Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was nowhere near the Colorado state Capitol building Tuesday, but people here couldn’t stop talking about him.

Denver was one of at least a dozen cities where labor organizations hosted solidarity rallies Tuesday in support of Wisconsin’s public-sector unions and against Mr. Walker, who has proposed limiting their collective-bargaining rights and requiring members to contribute more to their pension and health care plans.

A crowd of more than 500 union supporters representing a half-dozen labor groups cheered as speakers on the Capitol’s west steps called for Mr. Walker to resign or withdraw his proposal. They said they saw the Wisconsin effort as the start of an assault on organized labor.

“Let’s talk about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker,” said Dwayne Stephens of the AFL-CIO to a chorus of boos. “Do we find what Gov. Walker is doing acceptable? Do we think Gov. Walker should kill his bill and go back to the bargaining table with Wisconsin workers?”

Other states have proposed limits on union benefits and collective bargaining, and labor leaders fear a defeat in Wisconsin could embolden their foes.

“If we lose in Wisconsin, it’s going to be a domino effect,” said John Hennelly as he held his end of a Teamsters banner. “This is just the opening salvo in a war.”

The Wisconsin governor was a much more popular figure about 40 feet away on the sidewalk outside the Capitol building, where Tea Party and 9-12 organizers staged their own impromptu counterrally.

Scott Walker, right choice!” chanted the crowd of about 100 people.

“He’s just trying to do his job,” said Debbie Healy, Northern Colorado chairwoman of Americans for Prosperity, as she waved a flag at passing cars. “Thank goodness somebody has the foresight to get this spending under control.”

The pro-union demonstrations, which could be found in state capitals from Sacramento to Annapolis, came with no end in sight to the Wisconsin standoff. On Tuesday, Mr. Walker warned that state employees could start receiving layoff notices as early as next week unless his legislation is passed soon.

“Hopefully, we don’t get to that point,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Assembly Democrats in Wisconsin attempted to delay the governor’s bill by introducing more than 100 amendments. Even so, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald vowed that the Assembly would pass the bill this week.

The state Senate has been unable to vote because all 14 of its Democrats fled last week to Illinois, depriving the chamber of a quorum.

Indiana House Democrats took a page from the Wisconsin strategy Tuesday, as a majority of them fled the state rather than vote on a right-to-work bill that would prohibit paying fees for union representation as a condition for employment. Only a handful of the chamber’s 40 Democrats were present when Indiana Speaker Brian Bosma attempted to convene the session Tuesday, denying the House a quorum.

At the Denver rally, state police kept a watchful eye as the two camps occasionally clashed. At several points, a handful of pro-union protesters broke away from their rally to heckle the tea party speakers, standing on the steps behind them while shouting and making gestures.

“In spite of the people behind us with their middle fingers up, we think Colorado belongs to us, not to them,” said Republican state Sen. Bill Cadman, who has introduced legislation to ban public entities from entering into collective bargaining with labor unions.

Throughout his remarks, a woman yelled, “Look at the haters!”

Meanwhile, the counterprotesters annoyed union demonstrators by waving yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, courtesy of the Independence Institute of Golden, Colo., and loudly playing patriotic songs, courtesy a fife-and-drum duo.

The tea party ralliers defended Mr. Walker’s decision to restrict public-service unions, saying the public shouldn’t be at their mercy for essential services.

“It’s time somebody stood up and made the hard choices,” said Tom Buchanan, chairman of the 9-12 Project in Loveland, Colo. “Private unions can do whatever they want to do, but public-sector unions need to go away. The government shouldn’t be in a bargaining position with unions.”

That’s short-sighted, said Teamster organizer Jim Adams, who said the Wisconsin governor should sit down with the unions rather than issue ultimatums.

“We understand how the economy works,” said Mr. Adams. “But once you demand something, it’s an affront not just to unions, but to working people everywhere.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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