Students, local teachers call for labor rights


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As the sun dipped behind the Old Capitol and temperatures began to drop, protesters took to the Pentacrest.

They were speaking out against budget cuts aimed at public educators and employees in Iowa and standing in solidarity with those protesting in Wisconsin.

Holding signs that read “Workers’ rights are human rights,” and “Save affordable and accessible education,” around 100 undergraduate and graduate students, public-school teachers, and union supporters stood in the shadow of the former State Capitol on Wednesday.

The 4:30 p.m. start time made it possible for Iowa City public-school teachers to attend the rally.

They were led by Roosevelt Elementary teacher-librarian Anne Kraus, who spoke out against tax breaks for large corporations that necessitate budget cuts for public employees.

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“As public-school teachers, we are being attacked on several levels,” she said. “They want to cut school spending and are trying to restrict our collective bargaining. We have a definite serious problem here in Iowa.”

The people pumped their fists in the air and chanted, “What’s disgusting? Union busting” and “Kill the bill.”

Gov. Terry Branstad told the Associated Press on Wednesday he was making only limited changes to unions’ collective-bargaining power. Under his proposal, which passed a House committee and is waiting a full House vote, unions would no longer be allowed to bargain for insurance or about layoff procedures.

And while people at the protest said they were there in solidarity with Wisconsin, Branstad insisted his changes would be minimal compared to Wis. Gov. Scott Walker’s attempts to eliminate most collective-bargaining rights for public sector employees.

“Republican officials are trying to portray public employees as people who are attempting to take all this money from taxpayers,” Kraus said. “While public employees are paid less than those in the private sector.”

Representatives of the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students at the UI were also there, along with members of the UI Student Government to show support for unions and protest the budget cuts that could lead to tuition increases at public universities.

“We want to make sure that the Legislature and Branstad know that we’re all paying attention,” said COGS President Kari Thompson, clutching a small black speakerphone in her hand. “This is about building a community here today of people who care about worker’s rights and about education here at Iowa and all over the country.”

The event was one of several across the country part of Jobs with Justice’s national day of action. A UI Student Government- and Executive Council of Graduate of Professional Students-led group plans to travel to Des Moines next week to lobby the state Legislature.

“Brothers and sisters in the labor movement are taking a stand here to show solidarity with workers in Madison, Wisconsin whose rights are under siege,” COGS campus chief steward Barrett Gough said. “We’re trying to make a statement that says we don’t want our ability to sit down at the table with management taken away from us.”

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