Iraq/Afghanistan Vet Chet Millard Fighting for Freedom in the Workplace
MADISON, WI (FDL) – Sen. Glenn Grothman (R) appeared this morning on MSNBC, and was asked about the protests in the Capitol. He dismissed them. “Most of them are college students who are always up for a demonstration,” he sniffed. It’s a common refrain from supporters of Walker, marginalizing their opponents by calling them hippie college students.
First of all, 100,000 Wisconsinites are expected in Madison today. I don’t think that many students matriculate at UW. Second, and Grotham wouldn’t know this because he and his Republican colleagues wouldn’t set foot in the common areas of the Rotunda, but there are families sleeping over. There are cops. There are firefighters. There are teachers. There are public union and private union and non-union workers. There are single moms and sheet metal workers and janitors and truck drivers and office workers. And there are students. Last I checked they all have a vote and a voice in our democracy.
But maybe the best example disarming this dirty hippie meme is Sgt. First Class Chet Millard, who I spoke with a couple days ago. Millard served in Iraq in 2003-04 and in Afghanistan in 2009, as a platoon sergeant from the Wisconsin National Guard. While on tour in Afghanistan on a mission disarming roadside bombs, his vehicle was hit. He suffered multiple injuries, including traumatic brain injury, and was taken on a Medi-vac to the hospital. A Time Magazine photojournalist snapped his picture, and it appeared on the magazine’s cover.
Millard eventually was nursed back to health, and he returned to his job as a corrections officer at the Jackson Correctional Institution in Black River Falls, WI, north of Madison. And he came to Madison to decry the Governor Scott Walker’s plan to strip collective bargaining rights for public employees. “I believe it’s an attack on the freedoms we have as the people of Wisconsin,” Millard told me in an interview.
Corrections will be particularly hit hard by the budget repair bill, and future budgets under Gov. Walker. Millard said there’s talk about removing the protected status for corrections, which would reduce the multiple in retirement from 2% to 1.6%. “Many of our correctional officers are vets going back to the Vietnam War,” Millard said. “These guys are going to have to work until they’re 75.”
Millard believes that the budget will be particularly cruel to veterans. Hospitals and county veteran offices could feel the pain of budget cuts, when the county gets reduced funds and pass on their reductions. And that says nothing of the policy changes, such as the stripping of collective bargaining, “which effects the rights of people around here that have been there for 60, 70 years,” Millard explained. “Collective bargaining is our right to be heard in the workplace. Walker wants to make autonomous decisions without checks and balances. I don’t think enough people have truly read the bill and know what it does.” Millard stressed that the right to negotiate was crucial for good work and living conditions in the prisons, which goes directly to the main causes of riots – bad food, bad medical care, etc. “If everyone was a great employer we wouldn’t need unions,” Millard said. “The employer’s bottom line is money. Unions provide the way for workers to negotiate. You can’t throw away 70 years of history.”
He expanded on this in comments at an event put on by AFSCME:
You know I listened to that prank phone call and the part that really got under my skin — hearing the Governor talk about having dinner in his mansion. Comparing himself to Reagan. He said layoffs brought down the Berlin Wall. He is completely delusional!
The only wall he needs to worry about is the one HE built between himself and working families!
Mr. Walker – its time to tear down that wall!
Millard also feared that the provision in the budget repair bill which allowed for the selling of state-owned heating and cooling plants could set a precedent for more privatization, including in the prisons. This has been attempted in Wisconsin before, with the Stanley Correctional Facility, and the results were pretty dismal. The state ended up buying Stanley in 2002 for $87 million, after a host of problems, including violations of electrical, plumbing and safety codes.
At the outset of this situation, Gov. Walker intimated that he would bring in the National Guard to take over the prisons in the event of a walkout. There has been no talk of a walkout in Millard’s area of Black River Falls, he said, and in addition, he dismissed the concern, because the National Guard is trained to come in and take over as a contingency. They do an on-site walk-through every year. This suggests that Walker’s reference to them was more about intimidation than an actual threat, because he was merely expressing standard practice.
Millard agreed with the Senate Democrats’ effort to walk out of the state and stall the bill by denying a quorum. “Walker came in like a juggernaut,” Millard said. “A bill like this cannot be done in 30 days. People need to go past the first 10 pages and know about what’s in it.”
Needless to say, it’s hard to place a label like Sen. Grotham did today on someone who served America overseas and then found that the freedoms he ended up being wounded defending would be taken away from him. As Millard says in this video, “If freedom is worth dying for overseas, then it’s definitely worth rallying and fighting for here in Wisconsin.”