SPRINGFIELD - The protests over union bargaining rights in Wisconsin are drawing Illinoisans on both sides of the issue north of the border.
From Tea Party members from Rockford to unionized state workers from central Illinois, a number of Illinoisans have headed to Madison in recent days to join the battle over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's effort to end collective bargaining for public employee unions.
The Illinois Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, reports it has sent 14 staff members to Wisconsin to help organize members in their fight. Another 20 retired IEA members are helping with phone banks.
Similarly, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents the majority of Illinois state government workers, also has a number of staff members on the ground in Madison.
In addition, AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said Monday that rank-and-file union workers from Springfield, Rockford and elsewhere around Illinois have organized car pools to Madison to join in the protests.
"People want to be a part of it," said Lindall.
Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said the union has been concentrating mostly on Chicago's mayoral election in recent days. But, he said two buses of union workers headed across the border on Monday. Another bus load is scheduled to leave for Madison on Wednesday - a day after Tuesday's balloting.
Like others, Carrigan said some union workers are going to Madison on their own.
"Most are just getting in their cars and SUVs and heading up," Carrigan said Monday.
Walker wants to end to collective bargaining for state worker unions and limit contract negotiations to salary issues. He also wants public employees to pay a larger share of their pension and health insurance.
At least one group associated with the Tea Party movement from Rockford also went to Madison in support of Walker's efforts. WREX reported about 15 Tea Partiers were in Madison on Friday.
The tide of Illinoisans heading north could continue as long as the stalemate in the Badger State remains.
The West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents a number of labor groups, put out a call Monday afternoon to determine if there is interest in chartering a bus from Peoria to Wisconsin.