"Awake the State" rally hits downtown Tampa as the legislative session begins

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Randy Pines with the Teamsters Local 79 told a cheering crowd that those in attendance needed to target their individual legislators representing them in Tallahassee to stop the wave of anti-union legislation proposed this year. "With this new decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, corporate America can spend all the money they can spend, every nickel. But the only thing they can do with that money is trick you into voting against your own interests. That's all they can do....there is more of us, than there are of them!"

Tracey Crocker from the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County told the crowd that Governor Scott wants to cut all funding for homelessness i the state.  "Not just all funding for homelessness, but the programs themselves." Crocker said it was personal for her, because she said if it hadn't been for those state programs, she herself would have ended up on the streets.

Mark Johnson from IBEW Local 915 told CL he believed this would be the first of several public demonstrations to alert the public about proposals in the Legislature that could effectively gut completely unions in Florida. "We've got a lot of people fired up."

Local politicians in attendance included Tampa City Council members Mary Mulhern and Yolie Capin, as well as Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner.

Yesterday afternoon, unions, public servants and supporters came together to protest Gov. Rick Scott’s budget proposals and employee pension plans at a downtown Tampa rally in Lykes Gaslight Park.  Organizers said 2,000 appeared, but one Tampa Police officer estimated it at around 600-700 people.

All over Florida, "Awake the State" rallies were held to shine attention on the unpopular Scott budget, which cuts approximately $3.3 billion from Florida's public schools in just one year. In Hillsborough County alone, $108 million would be cut. Over 500 protesters came out to hold up signs with statements like, "Stop the attack on Middle Class" and "Stop the War on Workers."

Rally organizer Tim Heberlein said it was all about unions grouping together and staying connected. "One thing Rick Scott planned on doing with his budget and with his legislative session is to divide us," Heberlein said.

Jean Clements is the president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. Her speech focused on the power of the teachers' union. Teachers need to make sure "those working in our schools have meaningful input in decisions," Clements said. "That is one of the greatest benefits of the union." According to Clements, the union is the best way to support teachers and to improve our schools even further.

A big concern for Hillsborough County teacher Vivian Rothstein is her pension. She worries about the retirement money not being there. "I'm afraid when I get there, there won't be a drop," she said.

"I think in regards to the budget cuts, our job is hard enough. And how does the governor expect us to do the same with less money?"

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