By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
About 200 labor union supporters gathered in Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa on Friday night to show support for beleaguered public employees in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans are pushing to eliminate or weaken collective bargaining by government employees, a move they say will save millions of dollars and increase the government’s flexibility to run its operations.
The move has sparked weeks of protests in Madison, the state’s capital. On Friday, local union leaders said if it can happen in Wisconsin, it can happen in California.
“If you think it can’t happen here, what’s going on in Wisconsin, think again,” said Jack Thomas, president of the Santa Rosa Firefighters Local 1401.
The debate has sparked intense interest nationally as people on both sides of the debate watch to see how the move plays out in Madison.
Walker and other Republican leaders contend overhaul is necessary to put the state back on solid financial footing and to prevent mass layoffs.
Protesters in Santa Rosa said public employee unions are being made into scapegoats.
“People died for the eight-hour work day. People died to negotiate. If that goes for them, it’s only a matter of time,” said John Kent of Napa, a 34-year troubleman for PG&E. “If it’s wrong there, it’s wrong here. We are one country.”
Scott Severson, a Sonoma State University physics and astronomy professor, had a more personal reason for bringing a candle to Friday night’s protest.
“I feel torn up about what is happening to the hard-working people in Wisconsin,” he said.
Severson, a Wisconsin native and University of Wisconsin grad, was wearing the bright red sweatshirt of his alma mater and taking pictures of the rally to post to his Facebook page for friends in the Midwest to see.
“I think that this will bring them cheer to see people rallying behind their cause,” he said.