The 14 Democrats who fled Wisconsin to block a vote on union legislation thanked protesters Saturday for supporting them during their self-imposed exile.
Calling themselves the "Fabulous 14," the Democrats appeared at a rally against a bill signed Friday by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) that ends most collective bargaining rights for public employees. Critics call the law an "assault" on unions, but Walker said the legislation is necessary to reduce the state’s budget deficit.
The Republican majority in the state Senate passed the union bill earlier in the week, ending a long impasse that began when Democrats fled the state.
Tens of thousands of people filled the streets of Madison, Wis., for the
protest. Estimates of the crowd size ranged from 50,000 to 100,000
The Democrats who held up the vote were given a heroes' welcome outside the Capitol in Madison. Chants of “thank you, thank you” were heard as each of the Democrats took a turn speaking to the crowd.
"It's so good to be home in Wisconsin," Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D) said, according to Reuters.
The Democrats said they have no regrets about fleeing to Illinois to hold up the budget bill and vowed that the fight over unions is far from over.
"Thank you for being our voice while we were gone. Thank you for being Wisconsin's voice while we were gone. Thank you for being America's voice," said State Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee), according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald blasted the Democrats upon their return, saying they insulted the legislature with their actions.
"I hope you're embarrassed to call yourselves senators," Fitzgerald said in a statement.
Opponents of the union law have vowed to fight on despite their defeat in the legislature. Booths were set up at Saturday's rally to collect signatures to recall Walker and eight Republican senators who backed the legislation, Reuters reported.
The law signed by Walker, which takes effect in late March, requires public workers to pay more for their pensions and health plans, saving the state an estimated $30 million.