SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — Dozens of Chicago union workers boarded buses to Springfield Tuesday morning, where they joined about 3,000 other workers protesting today’s speech by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
The labor movement considers Walker the embodiment of an extreme agenda that seeks to cripple and destroy public employee unions.
Walker extolled the courage of Abraham Lincoln to a Springfield audience, and suggested that courage to stand up to public-sector unions is what’s needed for Illinois to fix its fiscal crisis.
“Wisconsin couldn’t wait. We had to take action,” Walker told a several hundred enthusiastic business leaders at a Springfield hotel, referring to his controversial roll-back of public sector union rights in tackling Wisconsin’s budget deficit.
Outside the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel in downtown Springfield, an estimated 3,000 union protestors picketed his speech outside in the streets carrying signs that said, “Go home, Gov. Walker.”
“He needs to get out of our state,” said Bryan Gale, a Decatur corrections worker. “Get out of Illinois and leave our jobs alone.”
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 31 graced the front page of its Web site Tuesday morning with a headshot of Walker with a red line through it, and said Walker “is not welcome in Illinois.”
“He’s already tried to talk Illinois businesses into relocating to Wisconsin, taking good jobs with them,” the union says on its Web site. “His shameful leadership has eroded the middle class in his home state. There is nothing this man can share that will help working families in Illinois.”
Walker was invited by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce to explain his approach to balancing the Wisconsin state budget.
The conservative Illinois Policy Institute, which itself is hosting Walker at a luncheon in downtown Chicago on Friday, praises Walker’s methods to balance the budget.
“In Illinois, Gov. (Pat) Quinn raised taxes by record amounts. Unemployment is up, businesses and taxpayers have left the state, the state’s deficit is $8.5 billion and growing, state workers didn’t receive raises they were promised…the list goes on and on,” the institute said in a news release. “Wisconsin chose a different path, and it’s working. With Gov. Walker at the helm, Illinois’ neighbor to the north took real steps toward reform and closed its budget gap without tax increases or broken promises.”
Walker is set for a recall election on June 5, after voters cast almost 1 million ballots in favor of forcing such an election.
The effort stemmed from anger over Walker’s aggressive moves during his first year in office that included effectively ended collective bargaining rights for nearly all public workers.
Walker’s move against Wisconsin state employees was first presented as an element of his budget.
The law forbids most government workers from collectively bargaining for wage increases beyond the rate of inflation. It also requires public workers to pay more toward their pensions and double their health insurance contribution, a combination equivalent to an 8 percent pay cut for the average worker.
Amid heated protests in Madison, Wis., the state’s 14 Senate Democrats left and hid out in Illinois, thus preventing the quorum required for the state Senate to vote on bills involving spending money.
Republicans fought back by taking all the spending measures out of the legislation, but keeping in the provision to restrict collective bargaining rights for state employees. The bill passed a short time later without the Democrats.
Unlike the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, the vote will not be on whether to remove Walker from office, but a new race between Walker and a Democratic opponent, Reuters explained. The Democrat will be chosen in a primary.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom Walker narrowly defeated in the gubernatorial race two years ago, is considered a likely Democratic candidate.