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Stillwater teacher Josiah Hill speaks Tuesday to one of the largest ever rallies held inside the Minnesota Capitol, a union event to show support for Wisconsin workers. Photo by Don Davis/State Capitol Bureau

Minnesota unions, governor support Wisconsin workers

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Minnesota unions, governor support Wisconsin workers
Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

ST. PAUL -- A thousand Minnesota union workers, some still wearing their hard hats, rallied in the state Capitol after work Tuesday to show support for their Wisconsin brethren who are fighting a Republican governor and legislators working to remove most public employee bargaining rights.

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"We are all in this fight together," Stillwater teacher Josiah Hill said. "Today, we are all Badgers."

The Minnesota rally, one of the largest ever held inside the Capitol, was one of many staged around the country as leaders in other states wait to see if the Wisconsin strife spills over.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, promised the labor woes would not cross into his state.

"Drastic, extreme measures won't become law here because I'm here," Dayton said.

Dayton said billionaires are financing the work of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, like Dayton new to the job, and other Wisconsin Republicans.

"We will not let Minnesota become Wisconsin," he added to cheers that filled the Capitol.

Walker wants to end most public union bargaining rights and raise what state workers pay for health insurance and pensions as he faces a budget deficit similar to that in Minnesota. In Minnesota, public workers already pay about the same for insurance and retirement plans as Walker seeks in his state.

Republicans said Dayton should not have been involved in a Wisconsin-related rally.

"Note to Mark Dayton: You are not governor of the state of Wisconsin," Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton said. "Instead of taking part in a photo op orchestrated by big labor regarding the Wisconsin budget, Dayton should get serious about his home state's finances."

Minnesota state Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said that he did not think it is appropriate for leaders from either party to take part in a rally about Wisconsin politics.

The Wisconsin situation could boost Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chances in next year's election, the party chairman said.

"This is the first of many battles," Ken Martin said, which could unify union members and other Democrats to retake seats they lost last year.

Eliot Seide, leader of Minnesota's largest state worker union, told those at the rally that labor will not "stand idly by while Scott Walker and a bunch of cheap-labor conservatives" make changes to hurt unions.

Dayton said Minnesota state workers already have "given up a great deal" when the state did not give them raises in recent years.

Despite Dayton's assurance that he will not let Wisconsin-type changes happen, union workers fired up the crowd by saying that the same could happen in Minnesota.

"I am not sure how we arrived at this place where hard-working union members became the villain," Hill said, saying that he fears for Minnesota middle class workers.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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