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Eric Cobb is getting a lot of email today. Cobb, executive director of the Building Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin, has been hearing from members who are feeling the effects of Governor Scott Walker’s budget. For the first time, their paychecks reflect the cuts rammed through the legislature earlier this year.
“In February, people didn’t want to talk about what was going to happen with the cuts. People were in denial,” Cobb told me on the phone. “They can’t do it anymore. They got their checks today or yesterday. Now I’m flooded with email from them.”
The so-called budget repair bill requires most state workers and many other public employees to pay steep increases for pension contributions and health insurance.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for the average state worker making $50,000 a year, the deductions add up to a 9 percent cut, or roughly $4,400, in take-home pay. But many workers make less than $50,000 and for them, the cuts go deeper.
“Some took a $200 hit on the first check,” said Cobb. “I have some non-represented custodial workers whose checks are annihilated. Now, people are saying they may have to drop their health insurance in order to feed their kids.”
Ah, yes, the freedom of choice in FitzWalkerstan: healthcare or food on the table?
The Building Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin, along with AFSCME Local 171, ASFCME Local 2412, TAA, the Student Labor Action Coalition, and other activist groups, held a Unity Lunch on the U.W.-Madison campus today. There were brats and music and an open mic.
Cobb said the event was fantastic, given the horrible situation workers are facing. “We saw the solidarity today that we saw in February and March,” he said. “Rank and file members had a chance to talk about how these austerity measures are affecting them.”
He stressed that this isn’t simply a union issue. “It seems like Scott Walker and GOP rubber stampers are going after unions,” said Hobb. “But the sad part is those who are unrepresented who are going to feel it the most. Some have just had a quarter of their income taken away from them.”
Cobb spoke to me on his way to set up the PA system for the “Day of Impact” demo at the Capitol. People will be marching from campus, up State Street, working its way up to the Capitol. Around 5:45 pm, people will once again occupy the Capitol Rotunda. How long will they stay?
If you liked this story by Elizabeth DiNovella, the Culture Editor of The Progressive magazine, check out her story Wisconsin Workers Feel the Pinch."
Follow Elizabeth DiNovella @lizdinovella on Twitter