Local Politics

Raleigh rallies debate public workers' unions

Signs at competing rallies in downtown Raleigh Saturday carried very different messages. "Unions make us strong" dueled with "SEIU/SEANC, your gravy train is out of steam."

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The debate over public workers' unions took over the old state Capitol building in downtown Raleigh Saturday afternoon.

Hundreds joined a rally organized by the State Employees Association of North Carolina and MoveOn.org. They carried signs with slogans like "Unions make us strong" and "Fund pensions, not wars."

Participants said that state workers in Wisconsin are being asked to sacrifice too much under a budget-cutting plan – higher pension contributions and insurance premiums and a loss of collective bargaining rights.

"If those get curtailed, ultimately, that takes away more than 90 percent of a union's purpose and existence," protester Christopher Dahlie, of Chapel Hill, said.

"When their wages are affected, everybody's wages are affected," demonstrator Katherine Fowler, of Raleigh, said. "I think it's important for all of us to stand up for their rights."

Across the street, however, between 100 and 150 people who thought differently held a counter-protest, organized by groups including NC Tea Party Revolution, NC Freedom, Tea Party Nation and Moccasin Creek Minutemen.

"I'm a small business owner and have no pension myself and don't have health care," said protester Frank Nichols, of Wilmington. "It's difficult to swallow that I'm paying for all of theirs, and they have a problem with what they're getting now."

The counter-protesters held signs declaring "SEIU/SEANC, your gravy train is out of steam," "Rein in public sector unions" and "Obama presents the great depression part 2 in cities near you."

Nichols said that tight times for state budgets mean hardships for both public and private workers

"We've all got to put in. We've all got to chip in and carry this load. Some people don't want to," he said.

Authorities at the scene estimated that 300 to 400 people attended the pro-union rally, while the size of the counter-protest was less than half of that amount.

SEANC is part of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the Wisconsin workers. SEANC doesn't have formal negotiating rights, since North Carolina is one of two states that ban collective bargaining for public workers.