Labor rallies for Wisconsin, cheers Malloy — for now

Some 300 union members gathered Wednesday outside the Capitol to show solidarity for Wisconsin’s embattled public-sector workers–but relatively few Connecticut state employees turned out.

And while the crowd, composed largely of private-sector labor and unionized school teachers and other municipal employees, roared its approval for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, state union leaders said that was not an endorsement of the $1 billion in worker concessions Malloy is seeking.

“There is no reason for a full assault on the right to organize, the right to negotiate, the right to arbitrate,”  Malloy said, referring to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s call to repeal collective bargaining for all issues except compensation. Walker’s proposals, which also include increased pension and health care costs for public-sector workers, prompted thousands of angry employees to demonstrate in the Wisconsin Capitol last week.

malloy at labor rally

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy got a friendly reception at Wednesday’s labor rally

While workers in that state were protesting last week, Malloy issued his own call for $1 billion per year in concessions from Connecticut state employees–more than five times the value of wage and health care givebacks workers agreed to in 2009.

Despite Malloy’s proposal, the mood Wednesday between the Connecticut governor and the crowd was relatively cordial.

“We may not always agree, you and I… but we can still sit down around a table,” Malloy added. “We can negotiate agreement. We can ask for compromise. We can work together.”

John W. Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, introduced Malloy to kick off the one-hour rally by acknowledging Malloy has a “tough job,” but quickly adding that Connecticut’s governor “believes in negotiations and believes in unions.”

Olsen and other union leaders acknowledged afterward that while all unions were invited to participate, state workers composed a relatively small segment of the overall crowd.

But Olsen, who accused Malloy last week of recommending excessive concessions from workers while not seeking enough in new taxes on the wealthy, said Wednesday’s event wasn’t about that disagreement.

“I think what’s important here is that we reached out, showed our solidarity, and showed the problem is not about public employees,” Olsen said.

When asked if the crowd’s warm response for Malloy was an endorsement of the governor’s proposed concessions, Olsen responded, “No, no, no, no. We endorse bargaining.”

Two state correction officers who did attend the rally, C.J. Sullivan and Neil Liskey of Local 1565 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said they believe Malloy will hear disapproval from state workers–when the time is right–if he continues to seek concessions at that level.

“I don’t think the round of applause today had anything to do with the $1 billion,” Sullivan said. “We’re here to support collective bargaining today and we’re fortunate to have a governor who wants to work with us, but a lot of people we work with are not happy.”

There was plenty of agreement at Wednesday’s rally about the participants’ opposition to Walker’s proposals as workers chanted “we are one, we are one.” There were signs that read: “Scott Walker is a Communist Spy,” and “Wall Street Greed Caused This Problem, Not Your Child’s Teacher.”

labor rally

Union members rally for Wisconsin public employees

“The gulf between the rich and the poor in this country grows wider every single day. It is not what America is about,” said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, one of several state legislators to address the crowd.

Public-sector workers “didn’t cause this mess. They didn’t serve the bad loans,” Connecticut Education Association Director John Yrchik said, adding that the federal investment deregulation statutes that helped create the last financial crisis also helped line the perpetrators’ pockets. “I can tell you this wealth didn’t go to government employees.”