Edward Quinn, an officer in the United University Professionals, spent the weekend before last occupying the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin in solidarity with the public unions in danger of losing their collective bargaining rights to a Republican state government.
Quinn’s weekend activities included joining in the protests, eating at the now famous Ian’s pizza, and remaining in the Capitol building after it was officially closed.
According to Quinn, there was nothing to worry about, even though he was breaking the law. The police, who are also unionized, were openly cheering for the protesters. Even if they wanted to, the police don’t have the time or the resources to arrest all of them. A policeman even joined the protesters in occupying the building, risking his own arrest.
Most of the protesters were from Wisconsin, Quinn said, but many had come from out of state to help out. They fear that similar bills could reach their home states if Governor Walker is successful.
Fortunately for union members in New York, Quinn doesn’t think Cuomo will turn against the unions. He also doubts that such a bill could ever be passed in New York.
For example, Mayor Bloomberg recently proposed a bill that would base the retention and firing of teachers on performance, rather than tenure or contracts. The Republican Senate approved the bill, but Quinn thinks that’s as far as it will get.
“Bills like that die in the Assembly,” he explained. “It’ll never see the light of day.” Democrats have historically dominated the lower house of the New York State.
But if Quinn were in put the same situation as Wisconsin unions, he doesn’t think he would have made as many concessions. “It’s a burden on the members,” Quinn said about the financial sacrifices the unions willingly made. “They’re effectively taking a pay cut between $3,000-$4,000 per year.”
Teachers in Wisconsin currently make just over $51,000 annually. “This is not the way to stimulate the economy,” he pointed out. “Teachers already make 4-7% less than others with similar education and jobs.”
Quinn wasn’t shocked that Republicans in many states were vilifying teachers. “Right now they are after the public employee unions. Teachers are the biggest section,” he explained.
In Quinn’s experience, he has found that school boards are less afraid of bargaining with teachers than Republican politicians are of their existence. Unions are typically among the largest spenders on Democratic campaigns.
Quinn’s favorite chant from the protests began with the question “What does Democracy look like?” The response, which came from a hundred thousand union members, protesters, and even car horns (though they could only keep rhythm), loud and clear: “This is what Democracy looks like!”