LINCOLN — Liberal and conservative groups staged dueling rallies Saturday at the State Capitol.
The topics were the Wisconsin controversy over public employees’ collective bargaining rights and, to a lesser degree, legislative proposals to change Nebraska’s commission that resolves labor disputes involving public employees.
Many of the estimated 250 people attending the “Save the American Dream” rally — an event to show solidarity with Wisconsin public employee unions — marched through a counter-rally organized by a coalition of Nebraska conservative groups.
Scott Edler, a Lincoln resident who teaches at Metropolitan Community College, said the Wisconsin showdown is “designed to do away with bargaining rights.”
The rally was organized by MoveOn.org. Similar rallies were held across the country.
“Silencing the voices of the employees is very un-American,” speaker Christa Yoakum said to cheers from the pro-union crowd.
The smaller counter-rally supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is trying to sharply curtail collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
Walker also would require them to pay more for their health care and retirement benefits. He says the changes are needed to solve his state’s budget deficit.
“They’re employed by taxpayers,” Omaha resident Greg Boyle of the Constitutional Conservative Alliance said of public employees. “When all budgets are having cuts, there have to be negotiations if there’s no money in the budget to pay them.”
Because the MoveOn event had a permit to rally only on the west side of the Capitol, a Lincoln police officer said, protesters weren’t allowed to enter the other group’s zone on the north side.
Even so, most in the pro-labor group marched through the middle of the 50 counter-demonstrators.
They carried American flags and signs saying “Nebraska Workers Support Wisconsin Workers” and “Respect Work, Strengthen Family” and U.S. and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags.
Chants of “union power” were met with responses ranging from “God bless you” to “Save the baby taxpayers.”
“We’re here to represent the taxpayers of Nebraska who aren’t getting represented at the bargaining table,” said Shelli Dawdy of Lincoln, a member of Grassroots in Nebraska.
A police officer dispersed the pro-labor demonstrators, and some moved across the street to continue protesting.
Although they disagreed on the proper course of action for Wisconsin to take, both sides said a compromise is necessary in tough economic times.
“The idea there’s all this opposition on one side or another is wrong,” Dawdy said. “We should all be treated equally.”