MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Thousands of Wisconsin union workers rallied at the Capitol Saturday to protest a "right-to-work" proposal that would outlaw the mandatory payment of union dues, but the crowd was much smaller than those in 2011 against Gov. Scott Walker's law stripping public sector unions of much of their power.
Speakers at the event jeered Walker's comment Thursday that fighting against protesters during the 2011 debates prepared him to battle terrorists as president. Walker has not yet announced his presidential campaign, but is expected to do so later this year.
"What we are doing here today is the heart and soul of democracy, not terrorism," said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of Wisconsin AFL-CIO.
Protesters held signs that said "This union grandma is not the same as ISIS" and "We are mad as h(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk) but we are peaceful."
Bretta Schmidt, a nurse at Meriter Hospital in Madison held a sign that said "I'm a nurse, not a terrorist." Schmidt said she protested Act 10 in 2011 and crowds Saturday could not compare.
"We feel defeated," she said. "We know this is going to pass."
A spokesman for the Department of Administration, Cullen Werwie, said between 2,500 and 3,000 people gathered at the Capitol Saturday. There were about 2,000 there for rallies Tuesday and Wednesday. The numbers pale in comparison to protests during the Act 10 debates in 2011 when an estimated 100,000 people turned out to protest at the Capitol.
Protesters wore construction helmets and Teamster jackets Saturday as they rallied against a right-to-work bill that was rapidly passed by the Wisconsin Senate last week and is expected to pass the Republican-dominated Assembly. Walker has said he will sign in it into law, which would make Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state.
Colin Millard a union representative from Horicon, 55 miles northwest of Milwaukee, said the Republican legislators' effort to push the bill through quickly prevented unions from getting large crowds gathered Saturday.
"We don't have as many people as we had four years ago, but we only had a week," Millard said. "With the speed (at which) they did this we weren't able to get people rallied together."
Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bydanaferguson.