Labor is an equality ally

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Wisconsin has received worldwide attention over the massive protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called “Budget Repair Bill.” Although its name suggests the bill is budget-related, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau found many elements are nothing more than sweeping policy changes that are not related to the budget at all.

The item receiving the most attention is Walker’s attempt to essentially eliminate 50 years of collective bargaining rights for public employees. The LGBT community has had a steady friend in Wisconsin’s labor movement and it should take a stand for labor in its hour of need.

Labor unions in Wisconsin were among the first to join Fair Wisconsin and others in fighting the 2006 constitutional amendment banning marriage equality and civil unions. AFSCME, one of the largest public employee unions, was the first of many to pass a resolution opposing the discriminatory amendment. Other unions also showed their support for equality in many ways that were critical to that fight.

In 2009, labor unions were again quick to rally to the side of equality in supporting our landmark domestic partnership registry. It is no wonder that Fair Wisconsin executive director Katie Belanger recently declared solidarity with Wisconsin’s unions to a national television audience on MSNBC.

Many unions have been on the forefront of fighting for their LGBT union brothers and sisters and making sure they are treated fairly. This includes the continuing fight for domestic partner benefits for LGBT workers. Those benefits were won for City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Public School workers only after Equality Wisconsin organized union members to demand them in collective bargaining.

Equality Wisconsin notified its 5,000 supporters that if Walker’s bill passes, unions will no longer be able to bargain for domestic partnerships. In fact, the unions’ ability to meaningfully bargain on anything will essentially be eliminated.

Many of the same people who charged that national healthcare reform was being “rammed down our throats” after a year of debate now suddenly support fast-tracking Walker’s bill to eliminate 50 years of labor law. The Republicans’ original plan was to pass the measure in only five days. Republican legislators held a public hearing but ended up cutting off people and not allowing others to speak.

The process was slowed when all 14 Democratic state senators left the Capitol and the state in order to prevent a needed quorum. This has provided the public with more time to examine this extremist legislation.

And the longer it’s examined, the more damaging it appears.

If Walker’s bill becomes law, it will destroy the strength of Wisconsin labor unions, among the LGBT community’s strongest allies for equality.

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