AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has two words for Scott Walker: "Thank You."
The Wisconsin governor's plan to restrict collective-bargaining rights for government employees, which unexpectedly passed Wednesday night in the state Senate, has energized the labor movement in a way not seen in a generation, Trumka said.
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"We probably should have invited him today to receive the Mobilizer of the Year award," Trumka said.
Speaking at a conference hosted by the progressive group Campaign for America's Future hours after Walker's Republican allies in the Wisconsin state Senate ended a weeks-long standoff with a sneak parliamentary maneuver to pass the proposed labor restrictions, the labor chief was more defiant than crestfallen.
"In your lifetime, have you ever seen this much solidarity?" Trumka said to the crowd. "Have you ever seen this much excitement?"
Walker's legislation has become a national flash point, with thousands of Democrats and union workers flooding the state capitol in Madison to protest what they see as an overreach by the new GOP governor. Republicans have argued that the legislation is necessary to balance the state's budget and symbolic of the fact that voters are more fed up with public-sector unions than ever before.
Trumka said the controversy has helped shift the focus away from austerity measures to collective-bargaining rights and the economic health of the middle class.
"This is a debate we've wanted to have for 20-25 years," he said. "Well, guess what? Suddenly, the debate came to us.
"And here's the most beautiful part of it: We're winning that debate with the American people," he said.