MADISON, Wis. (AP & WITI) -- Union members rallied outside the Wisconsin Capitol on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the Republican-led Legislature's passage of a hotly-disputed measure that stripped most public union workers of collective bargaining rights.
Demonstrators showed up hours before the 1 p.m. kickoff of a rally called by the state chapter of the AFL-CIO, and their chanting, drumming and sign-waving hearkened back to the weeks of large protests at the statehouse that preceded the passage of the bill. Many placards called for the ouster of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who championed the law and is the subject of a recall effort by Democrats and their allies.
"The best thing our governor did for us was unite us," Earle Engerson, a member of a Milwaukee carpenter's union said.
Protesters, who were in the tens of thousands, marched around the Capitol before hearing from several community speakers. Organizers emphasized their effort to remove Walker from office.
Speaking to the crowd, State Senator Jennifer Shilling said it was time for some "spring cleaning" at the Capitol. In the aftermath of Act 10's signing, Shilling won her senate seat in the District 32 recall.
"There is a concern about the direction of the state. There is a concern about the agenda that's being put forward, and there's certainly a decision that needs to be made about new leadership here in Wisconsin," Shilling said.
"I think it was a great moment in the state because it gave the municipalities the tools to truly negotiate with their workforce in an effort to cut costs," conservative activist Paris Procopis said.
Walker and the Legislature's Republican leadership argued that they had to pass the collective bargaining bill last year to help balance the state's $3.6 billion. In addition of stripping public workers of bargaining rights, the measure forced them to pay more for their pensions and benefits.
Democrats said the bill was a politically motivated effort to undermine the unions, which are an important part of the Democrats' constituency.
Almost as soon as it was proposed, tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on the Capitol to protest the bill, which ended up being one of the most divisive pieces of legislation in state history. Many were public employees, including teachers. They loudly camped inside the Capitol for 24 hours a day and for three weeks straight.
Democratic state senators added a twist to the story, and unexpectedly fled the state to nearby Illinois in a failed attempt to block a vote on the proposal. But the Republican-majority Legislature got around it, and Walker signed the plan into law in March 2011.
Talk of recalling the governor began almost immediately, and Democrats submitted more than a million petition signatures in January to begin the recall election process for Walker, Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four GOP state senators.