DENVER (AP) – A union rally outside Colorado’s Capitol turned ugly Tuesday when some 500 union members and supporters who gathered to express support for embattled unions in Wisconsin found unwelcome rivals calling for public unions to disband.
The rallies were heated but peaceful, with Colorado State Troopers standing between tea party supporters gathered on a sidewalk outside the Capitol and union members spread up the Capitol lawn.
There were insults on both sides. Some tea partiers shouted that union members are lazy, while the union members at one point chanted “Wall Street tools!” at their opponents.
“I wish I had a trust fund so I could stand out here and criticize!” shouted union backer Barbara Gabriel, who teaches history at Metropolitan State College of Denver and sided with the unions.
Gabriel and other union members stood in a line shouting down at the rival protesters waving tea party “Don’t Tread On Me” flags.
The demonstrations didn’t get any more heated than that, though. Many union members said they simply wanted to show support for public employee unions in Wisconsin, where tens of thousands are protesting outside the state Capitol against a GOP plan to strip some collective bargaining rights from state employees.
“I believe everybody has the right to collective bargaining,” said union electrician Kurt Lieder of Littleton. “It’s federal law. It’s the American way. We built this country.”
On the other side, 55-year-old Elbert Bonner of Longmont held a handmade poster that read, “I want a seat on the public GRAVY TRAIN.” Bonner is a substitute teacher looking for a full-time teaching spot and said teachers and other government employees should not be able to organize unions.
“I’m not saying there’s no place for unions, but I don’t think government workers should unionize. They’re on the public dime,” Bonner said.
Tea party supporters were welcomed by Republican Sen. Bill Cadman, who proposed a bill to bar public entities from collectively bargaining with a labor union. Cadman’s measure has already been defeated, but he vowed to try again.
“Look across the country. This is not going away,” Cadman said.
Away from the union-tea party clash by the sidewalk, union leaders were joined by Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who attended the rally wearing jeans and an Aurora Firefighters T-shirt. Perlmutter, who represents the Denver suburbs, stayed far from the shouting fray and shook hands with union members.
“It’s just showing support for the hardworking people in the middle,” Perlmutter said of the rally.
The head of a Colorado public-employee union that represents about 3,000 workers, Colorado WINS, said the rally was aimed at Wisconsin, not any measure pending in Colorado. But Robert Gibson made the same point as Cadman, saying union-blocking measures are becoming more common.
“This is an assault on working families,” Gibson said.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)