RALEIGH — A coalition of labor, civil rights and religious groups rallied in front of the General Assembly offices Monday to call for an end to North Carolina's ban on public employees' collective bargaining and to resist state budget cuts at the expense of public sector jobs and programs.
The rally drew about 100 participants, who cheered several speakers representing labor, churches and the NAACP. About two dozen people staged a counterprotest across the street in Bicentennial Plaza, shouting insults and chanting slogans throughout the rally.
Both sides cited the controversy in Wisconsin, where that state's governor has proposed reducing public employees' pay and benefits and limiting their collective-bargaining rights. Wisconsin has become a rallying cry for unions, but it is just one of many states scrutinizing pay, benefits and pension commitments as they face difficult decisions to handle budget deficits.
Some of the concessions that governors in those states would like to see are already status quo in North Carolina, which has banned collective bargaining for public employees since 1959.
The coalition's campaign is a long shot, but it will add to the debate over state employees' compensation. Gov. Bev Perdue has recommended eliminating 10,000 positions, as many as 3,000 of which are now filled. She would like to see money set aside to coax workers into retirement, while saving additional money by consolidating some state agencies.
After the sidewalk rally in Raleigh, coalition members filed quietly into the Legislative Building to present copies of the coalition's statement of principles and a copy of an International Labor Organization 2007 report calling on North Carolina to resume collective bargaining. Copies went to the offices of Sen. Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the Senate, and to Rep. Tom Tillis, speaker of the House.
When coalition leaders delivered a copy to a Tillis aide and then began to pray, Tillis appeared and joined them in prayer before briefly greeting them and promising a more substantial meeting later.
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