Walker Stalkers call out a sweatshop & support a whistle blower – Fort Atkinson Protest

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Photo from Walworth County Dems

About 300-400 people gathered at Opportunities Inc. in Fort Atkinson last night. Walker visited as part of a 45th anniversary celebration and a $6 million dollar addition to the Opp. Inc. “campus”. Protesters broadcast 3 key messages. The first two I expected: “Recall Walker” and “Opportunities Inc is a sweat shop”. The third message is a surprise to me: Opportunties Inc. puts disabled people in deadend sub-minimum wage work – work supported by federal medicaid grants. And “sub-minimum” is really very much below $7.50/hour: 323 of Opp. Inc’s employees worked at sub-minimum wage in 2009. 300 earned less than $5 an hour, 161 earned under $2/hour and 66 worked for under $1 an hour*. About 70 similar licensed “sheltered workshops” legally employ disabled people in Wisconsin for sub-minimum wage work. I learned that Goodwill of Southeastern Wisconsin is the largest such outfit in the nation. (*per a 2009 DWD application I’ll dig into this deeper in an upcoming post.)

Many of the people who came to protest Walker had read about the working conditions of one of Opp. Inc’s non-disabled employees: Bob Heussner. He’s a Vietnam vet who wrote a letter to a local paper, “The Daily Union”, to say that workers on the Purina cat food packing line he’s on are kept at minimum wage with no advancement chances, with no holidays, and no benefits. They’re kept on a “temporary” status for years – excluding them from perks. And they work with no air conditioning. There are few fans that are not over all the workers. Bob told me he took a couple days off without pay last week. He couldn’t handle the heat. He said the option to leave due to heat is not presented to workers. He says his request for better fans has not been responded to.

Nobody need worry about guests, however. For the muggy evening, temporary air conditioning was pumped into the Opp. Inc. “Gala”.

More on that A/C (48 seconds):

Bob speaks here along with friend Lily.

Lilly and Bob H. talk about Opportunity Inc. from Erik of newsWISC on Vimeo.

I recognized some “Walker Stalkers” who I’ve seen in Madison but I also met plenty of new people such as Helen from Walworth County who I’d chatted with on facebook. Most of the protests I’ve gone to are diverse, noisy, and a bit unruly, and this was no exception. I could say the unruliness indicates protesters are from are the grassroots and remain uncoached. Or I could say they’re really pissed off with Walker. Maybe that’s two ways to say the same thing.

We were gathered along the sidewalk in an industrial park of Fort Atkinson and around half of a warehouse-style industrial building. Guests were parking across the street and were escorted over to their Gala by men in uniforms and day-glow yellow vests — “rent-a-cops”. The guests wore heels and suits in contrast to the shorts and sandals of the protesters. As these guests crossed the street, protesters lined their path and yelled “shame!” One local man with a megaphone tried to stop protesters from chastising the visitors, saying the real problem is Walker. He had very limited success.

A Walker supporter stood at the edge of this protest gauntlet and shook the hand of every visitor who came down the sidewalk. I didn’t see her suffer harassment. I rode back to Madison with twitter pal @WIArtTeacher and found out that not only is @WIArtTeacher (Kati) from Fort Atkinson, but she also knows that hand-shaker very well. The hand-shaking woman was in Kati’s mother’s prayer group. The woman once tried to shame Kati’s mother over Kati’s anti-Walker activism in the middle of a prayer. Kati said she walked up to the hand-shaker last night and told her it was her right to do what she was doing at the protest, but nobody was getting her message. Kati then turned on her heel and walked away.

I neared the entrance to the Gala and saw what looked like the happiest guy there – - one of those people that exude a healthy glow. He waved at one of the guests in suits and his companion. His greetings and waving continued as a series of about 3 couples he knew walked in during the 10 minutes I stood there. Each couple waved back somewhat tentatively and greeted him by name. There was no sentence to follow that greeting like “how ya doin”, but instead, an awkward moment followed as they just looked at each other. His wife stood by his side and also waved, but would shake a small cowbell as well, smiling brightly. “Whenever I see somebody I know coming in, I shake this bell so they look at me,” she said. I struck up an easy conversation with them, but they wanted to remain anonymous in this blog. He explained that he’s in the Lion’s Club with most of those people he greeted. He pointed to a man in his 40′s and said, “He was a student of mine.” I learned he’s a retired teacher. His wife said she’d taught the children of the people in suits, and at this her brow furrowed a little. She lacked the constant beautific glow of her husband. I asked her if she thought her presence at the protest would spark a change in one of the guests she’d greeted. She replied, “No. I think they’re too far died-in-the-wool now.”

We spoke with Larry, a man who’s worked at Opportunities Inc. and got laid off a few days ago. His story is about witnessing illegal immigrants using others’ documents to get work at Opportunities Inc. and about being farmed out as a temporary worker to area businesses that refused to grant him a permanent job.

Larry from Erik of newsWISC on Vimeo.

What follows are a few words from Sly of WTDY in Madison. A geeky blogger like myself goes to a protest and gets some happy recognition from readers. When Sly walks by a line of protesters you see some kind of celebrity-protester lovefest unfold.

Sly of WTDY 1670am from Erik of newsWISC on Vimeo.

Walker approached the site in his usual sinister looking Yukon XL SUV with black tinted windows along with a few look-alike vehicles. It was surreal: 3 black SUVs speeding by [perhaps 45 mph], tires ka-thumping over railroad tracks one after the other. Protesters begin to yell as they get a glimpse of the vehicles in their peripheral vision, all turning to the road. They run after the vehicles, their signs flailing. Some want to run but decide to stay rooted by the railroad tracks that run behind the building where we’ve been assembling – maybe in hopes he’d double back or in realization that they won’t run fast enough to catch him. The chanting and yelling intensifies to a dull roar around the other side of the building and I listen to the state troopers get questioned by a couple of angry men: “Do you honestly think that was under the speed limit?”

I walked toward the mass of people and 2 minutes in I caught sight of a man being led away in handcuffs. Two protesters were arrested so quickly, I couldn’t witness it. A blonde woman was arrested for banging against the side of the building. The man I saw handcuffed is Ed Sadlowski of AFSCME who trespassed on the taped off lawn holding his American flag immediately after the woman was arrested, saying “If someone is going to jail, I’m going to jail too.” My friend Karen was very nearly arrested at the same time. I learned Ed’s teen daughter yelled out, “That’s my dad!” when he got arrested.

Talking about that moment reminded Karen of another father daughter moment: a state trooper stationed at the event walked into the crowd to give a hug to his protester daughter.

You can see people running after Walker and an arrest at 5:08 of Arthur’s video:

In a related post I hope to address:
-Why and when it’s legal to pay people sub-minimum wage in America
-Sheltered workshop sweatshops
-What disability advocates are demanding
-And get out more Photos and Video

More on sheltered workshops from Madison.com

The A/C and Protesters-running video is from Arthur of the facebook page Shit Scott Walker’s Doing to My State

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  6 comments for “Walker Stalkers call out a sweatshop & support a whistle blower – Fort Atkinson Protest

  1. anti-neocon
    July 31, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Please be advised, Dad29 is taking you to task. Thought you should know.

    • August 1, 2011 at 5:39 am

      ok. I visited the blog, saw the post. Not really feeling like I need to say anything beyond what’s been commented already. Doesn’t look like he’s much of a thinker. It won’t make a difference if I go there or not. Have to hand it to the dude…. prolific at the posts. But then he keeps it simple. I’ve been meaning to do here’s-a-paragraph-and-here’s-my-one-sentence thing –a lot of bloggers do it.

  2. susan
    July 30, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Do not write anything about sheltered workshops unless you want to learn a whole lot about disabilities. Do not confound minimum wage with sheltered workshops.

    My goal is for my son (severely autistic, mental age of about 5yrs, requiring constant supervision) to be bussed to to a facility with his aide, work through enough piece-work so he earns 4 quarters in one hour so he can buy his choice of a pop or candy at the pop machine, and come home again exhausted from his efforts four hours later. This would be huge! A regular schedule with modest goals, the independence, real work, a reward system, a social group? The real world cost of his modest efforts is not minor: a door-to-door handicapped bus & driver, a full-time special aide (not minimum wage!), a room to work in in a facility that is set up for this and, most importantly, a business that will set special work aside and maybe even the space so he can be successful. And truthfully he would not be able to earn his quarters every day–it would be quite a struggle.

    But my son will probably not get this opportunity because in the state of Colorado he is too disabled. ‘Job training’ in sheltered workshops here is only allowed if it is short-term and they can train you to do a real job. After all, sheltered workshops don’t pay minimum wage so they are evil, aren’t they?

  3. Nancy Ames
    July 30, 2011 at 7:27 am

    Beautiful work on this!

  4. Patrick Waring
    July 30, 2011 at 5:31 am

    On In Our Back Yard last Wednesday Craig McComb did a excellent interview with Jodi Hana, supervising attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, about sub-minimal jobs for disabled persons in Wisconsin.

    http://archive.wort-fm.org/mp3/wort_110727_183002iobywed.mp3

    It starts around 11:50.

    Craig knocked this story out of the park and I’m incredibly proud that WORT is covering such a ridiculous injustice. How we as a society can condone paying a janitor 11 cents an hour in 2011 is mind blowing.

  5. daelv
    July 30, 2011 at 4:11 am

    unionize!!

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