MADISON (WITI/AP) -- Protesters packed the Capitol for the second straight day as the full Wisconsin Senate debated so-called "Right-to-Work" legislation Wednesday, February 25th. The debate occurred under security not seen four years ago when the Legislature debated on and then passed Act 10 -- which essentially curtailed collective bargaining for public workers. At least four people were arrested Wednesday, and many more were thrown out for disrupting.
The Senate began debate of the Republican-backed Right-to-Work measure Wednesday afternoon. The measure was passed in a 17-15 vote shortly before 10:00 p.m. Wednesday. One Republican senator, Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) did not vote with his party -- but the GOP had the 17 votes needed for the measure to pass.
Earlier Wednesday, police blocked off the entrance to the Senate floor to keep protesters away as the debate began. Several hundred people rallied over the noon hour. After a short march, demonstrators filled the Capitol Rotunda -- singing and shouting. They say they want Republican lawmakers and the rest of the country to know they're not going away.
"It`s not something labor can do alone. It`s not something religious leaders can do alone. We all have to be Wisconsin citizens to change this," AFSCME Wisconsin Executive Director Marty Beil said.
Republican lawmakers have said they're fast-tracking the Right-to-Work legislation because the votes are there. Protesters said even if they can't stop the bill, they must be heard. That's why some stayed in the Capitol as Wednesday turned to Wednesday night.
"From the start, this has been in the bag. They're not listening to all of the protesters here. It doesn't seem to be impacting anything," Barry Rokusek said.
"We don`t support this. I don`t want Scott Walker to be able to go around to the rest of the nation saying 'hey they support this back in Wisconsin. They support my policies,'" Zach Stoner, who came to Madison from Kenosha to demonstrate Wednesday said.
"I think the Democrats should walk out. That's my personal opinion," one protester said.
While watching from the viewing gallery Wednesday, Kathy Liska said she couldn't help herself.
"I have a problem and when I have something to say, I do open my mouth. I yelled that they need to learn to work for the people of Wisconsin - not for their corporate donors," Liska said.
Liska got booted from the viewing gallery. We're told four people were arrested, and some others were booted for disrupting, like Liska.
Right-to-Work supporters say the anger is misguided, and that the bill gives workers more flexibility.
"Giving workers the ability to say 'yes I see value in a union. I want to support them financially,' or 'no I don`t' -- it`s just fundamentally fair," Scott Manley with Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce said.
As for a possible last resort, some of the protesters have called for a statewide general strike.
"It would be a doomsday option," Beil said.
"That would definitely be a nuclear option. It`d be great to see, but there`s no way I can speak to that," Stoner said.
Beil says public unions are joining these demonstrations against Right-to-Work because private unions supported their fight against Act 10.
Wednesday's debate came after the Senate Committee on Labor angered bill opponents Tuesday night by cutting short a hearing amid concerns about a "credible threat" that some sort of a disruption was planned. Before that though, the committee voted 3-1 to send the measure to the full Senate.
The AFL-CIO says it is planning another rally for Saturday, February 28th. This, as the Right-to-Work legislation heads to the Assembly for debate next week.
Governor Walker has said he would sign Right-to-Work legislation if it made it to his desk.
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