Latinos condemn Wisconsin anti-worker bill

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Twenty leading national Latino organizations have come together to oppose growing attacks against the rights of workers in Wisconsin and other states.

A measure that would strip the collective bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin is expected to pass in the State Assembly Thursday, March 10. The move was rammed through the State Senate the night before by an all-Republican vote of 18-1. The chamber's Democratic minority remained out of state in fierce opposition to the bill, which is supported by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

"As working families struggle to stay afloat in this economic downturn, a wave of state-led attacks are threatening workers and the basic structure that protects their rights on the job," said Latino leaders in a joint statement.

The groups include: The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, League of United Latin American Citizens, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislatures, National Puerto Rican Coalition, National Institute for Latino Policy, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and many others.

The statement continues, "Attempts to destroy the right of workers to bargain collectively raise grave concerns about job quality and economic security for working families and vulnerable segments of our population, including Latinos and low-income families."

Such attacks being waged in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Iowa, Florida and other states limit the power of all workers and their unions to negotiate for quality jobs, good wages, benefits, safe working conditions and job security, says the statement.

Across the country tens of thousands are gathering to oppose legislative measures by Republican lawmakers that are attacking workers' rights as the means to address budget shortfalls.

Juan Andrade Jr., president of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, one of the coalition members, said collective bargaining has always been the centerpiece of workers' rights.

"These attacks strike at the very heart of the right workers have to protect themselves against unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, and employer intimidation," he said. "Without collective bargaining, workers will be unable to protect themselves against employers whose reprehensible tactics and methods of negotiating would be identical to those we are seeing in these governors and legislators today."

The Latino advocates say Gov. Walker and legislators like those in Wisconsin are clearly anti-worker and anti-union. They are trying to blame today's fiscal crisis on hard working public employees, including law enforcement officers, teachers and firefighters, they add. There actions are irresponsible and those pushing them want to increase employee contributions to health care and pension plans, terminate current contracts, do away with binding arbitration and make it more difficult for workers to pay their union dues - in short, bust their unions.

"The general public is being deliberately misinformed and being led to believe that employee pension plans are funded entirely by taxpayers, hoping to turn taxpayers against trade unionist and the unions to which they belong," said Andrade. "Nothing could be further from the truth and these governors and legislatures know it."

Labor activists note the union wage benefit is greatest for workers of color and women. Unionized Latinos earn approximately 51 percent more than their nonunion counterparts while women earn almost 34 percent more than nonunion women. In the absence of unions, attacks on workers' rights and declining job quality will go unabated for all workers, exacerbating these risks among vulnerable populations.

Within hours of yesterday's Wisconsin senate vote, labor leaders and elected officials condemned the action.

"In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin," said Mark Miller, the leader of the Wisconsin senate Democrats, who fled to Illinois last month in an attempt to block such a vote from occurring. "Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten," he told the New York Times.

Tens of thousands continue to flock to Wisconsin's State Capitol to protest the bill. Activists say it's the beginning of the end of the Republican-led majority in the State Assembly as well as Gov. Walker's final curtain call as an elected official.

Photo: Thousands of opponents of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill gather for protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, February 26. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart)

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