California State University East Bay

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California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

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State Employees Rally for Benefits

In response to the ongoing protests taking place in Madison, Wisconsin, and around the country, California public employees, along with a general assortment of labor union representatives, descended Tuesday on the State Capitol in Sacramento and the State of California Building in Oakland.

Protestors began to gather in downtown Oakland around 5 p.m., and their numbers had swelled to approximately 100 by sundown. The mixed crowd was heavily represented by the Oakland Educational Association, along with teachers from the entire Bay Area, who showed up to support their fellow educators in Wisconsin.

“It’s about our call to put an end to the demonizing of public employees,” said Mike Myslinski a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association regarding the purpose of the rally.

“These are the workers who teach our children and keep our communities safe. They [teachers] pay thousands of dollars of their own money for supplies, in furlough days and benefits, because of the state’s budget crisis.”

When asked if budget shortages ever justify the cutting of salaries and benefits, Myslinski answered, “It seems like scapegoating of public employees, and that needs to stop.”

Marry Flanagan identified herself as an everyday, regular teacher from Richmond, whose opinion is rarely asked or considered. “The government of Wisconsin has just cut the taxes for the rich, the top 1 percent who have the most wealth in this country,” said Flanagan, citing the millions of dollars worth of tax cuts that were signed into law by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Feb. 1.

“It’s a scary time. Americans don’t like to be bullied—this is when we stand up and say no.”

Although Governor Jerry Brown’s budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year does not propose further cuts to public K-12 education—which Brown promises, “maintains funding at the same level as the current year”—many fear that state employee salaries and benefits will be on the chopping block.

Earlier in the day, Republican Assemblyman Allan Mansoor of Orange County introduced a bill in Sacramento that will block state employees from being able to collectively bargain for their retirement benefits, prompting a walkout of Democratic lawmakers.

Considering that Walker and fellow Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who has introduced similar budget proposals in his state, are rising stars in the national Republican Party, this issue may soon split the entire nation along political lines.

However, in Oakland, the focus remained on showing support for worker solidarity.

Marsha Feinland and Robin Welker display signs in support of workers in Oakland.

Sally Cahill of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2428 was one of the many representatives of local labor unions.

“I’m here to support union workers in Wisconsin because taking collective bargaining away is union busting,” said Cahill.

The sign she was holding compared the struggle for democracy in Tunisia and Egypt to the protests in Wisconsin.

Jack Gerson, a leader of the Oakland Educational Association who also led the chants of the crowd, echoed Cahill’s sentiment.

“What we’re here to do is show solidarity with public employees,” said Gerson, “solidarity against those who would bash the unions and take our rights.”

Gerson also insinuated that those calling to cut the rights of public employees and unions are also those most responsible for the current economic crisis.

“We don’t believe that there is no other option. Take a look around, we know that the upper class is responsible for the financial crash two years ago.”

In fact, observers could not help but notice that a tinge of class conflict was present at the rally when demonstrators began to chant “tax the rich” and “chop from the top. Make the bosses take the loss.”

Political representation from the Green Party, Peace and Freedom Party, and Revolutionary Socialists was also present.

As a Democrat, it can be seen as unlikely that Governor Jerry Brown will be going out of his way to upset the California Teachers Association and other labor constituencies. However, with a projected deficit of $25.4 billion, Brown’s self-described “painful” budget cuts may soon be expanded to hurt more people than originally expected.

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