Teachers, government employees, farmworkers hold weekend protests

Late Sunday afternoon in Largo more than 100 Pinellas County public employees hosted a rally on Rick Scott's proposed state budget cuts that directly take aim at government workers.

The state goes into its regular Legislative session Tuesday with a $3.6 billion shortfall, but Scott is looking to cut up to $5 billion from the budget. That could mean government employees may have to make contributions to their retirement accounts, something they've never had to do but is starting to happen to their brethren throughout the country.

As Assistant Public Defender Nina Hayden, one of the organizers of last night's event in Largo, told the Tallahassee Democrat's Bill Cotterell,

"What's become increasingly difficult is the financial situation of all individuals in the state attorney's office and the public defender's office," she said. "The public defender's office had to go on furlough for several days and it's been very, very challenging."

Hayden, 36, said most public employees "are very passionate about public service" and accept lower pay in part for good benefits.

"Slowly but surely, over the years, there's been a chipping away at those benefits," Hayden said. "Just the whole overall tone coming out of the governor's office seems to say we don't really acknowledge the importance of being a public servant."

She said the proposals emanating from Tallahassee are not good for morale.

"People are really afraid," she said. "When people are so passionate about their work, and so concerned about what's going on in Tallahassee, you've got a serious issue."

Another group of public employees in Pinellas County, teachers, held their own demonstrations late Friday afternoon in three different locations.  CL attended the rally in St. Petersburg, at the four corners of 66th and Tyrone, where there appeared to be at least 200 people in attendance (the St. Pete Times on Saturday reported about 700 teachers in all at the three locations where teachers protested).

The teacher's concerns are also about pensions, and SB 736, the "son" of John Thrasher's teacher tenure SB 6 bill that Charlie Crist vetoed near the end of last year's legislative session.  The new bill will be voted on in the Senate this week.