March 10, 2011- Tears flowed freely from the eyes of several protesters while others had a look of stony resolve when it became clear that the state Assembly had, as expected, voted Thursday to approve a bill that sharply curtails collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
Her eyes red from crying, Colleen Leinberger, a county employee from Darlington, said she is fearful about what the changes for public employees could ultimately mean for her finances in retirement. She grew up poor in a family of six children and says collective bargaining gave her and others a way out of poverty.
"We are going 50 years backyards," she said. "Now they can come in here and take everything away."
After acrimonious debate, all but four Republicans voted to approve a version of Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill that also gives the state health department the power to revamp Medicaid programs without legislative approval. The four Republicans who voted against the measure are Travis Tranel of Cuba City, Lee Nerison of Westby, Dean Kaufert of Neenah and Richard Spanbauer of Oshkosh. All Democrats voted against the bill. The final vote was 53-42.
Katie Hoverson, a nurse from Evansville who works at UW Hospital, arrived in her scrubs Thursday afternoon just after the bill passed. She says she was "angry" but committed to staying engaged and fighting against similar attempts to strip working people of their rights. A member of the Service Employees International Union, she noted that she had recently been talking to her husband, who works at a major retailer, about starting a union at his workplace.
"Instead of my husband starting a union, unfortunately I'm losing mine," she said. "To me, it's a sad day."
Hoverson's resolve to keep on fighting was a common theme among protesters and Democratic lawmakers after the vote.
"They may have won the battle, but I guarantee you they've lost the war," said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, to protesters after exiting the Assembly chambers.