Rallies clash loudly over union rights

Wisconsin inspires N.C. civil servants

Staff WriterFebruary 27, 2011 

— Wisconsin's battle over collective bargaining rights spilled over into downtown streets Saturday, producing a noisy clash of pro- and anti-union demonstrators.

Hundreds of supporters of Wisconsin public employees in a dispute with Gov. Scott Walker waved signs, chanted and heard speeches on the south lawn of the Capitol, while a smaller, loudly outspoken group of opponents shouted their own slogans from the other side of Fayetteville Street.

The pro-union rally was organized by the State Employees Association of North Carolina. SEANC doesn't have formal negotiating rights, because North Carolina is one of two states that ban collective bargaining for public workers.

"If Wisconsin goes, everything goes!" Linda Suggs, a special education teacher in Wake County, said to the crowd that gathered facing Fayetteville Street.

Rallies supporting the Wisconsin employees also took place in Minneapolis; Denver; New York City; Topeka, Kan.; Lansing, Mich.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Columbus, Ohio; and elsewhere, the Associated Press reported.

Some among the crowd of about 150 opponents to the pro-union group said they were affiliated with the tea party movement.

Many in the anti-union group waved flags, and one was dressed in the uniform of a Revolutionary War soldier.

"We're trying to get all the sickness out of this country so we can get back to the foundation," said Roy Musser, who traveled from Morehead City for the rally.

Said Wake County resident Bruce Morris, gesturing toward the pro-union demonstrators, "These people are socialists; that's all it is."

State Capitol police kept order and maintained the distance between the groups. Heated exchanges between the two factions erupted occasionally as the events broke up.

"These people don't really understand whose side we're really on," said Laurie Gengenbach, an employee of N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro.

"We are fighting for them against greedy banks and greedy corporations and greedy governors," Gengenbach said.

thomas.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929

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