Thousands Of Union Members Sleeping Over At Washington Capitol To Protest Budget Cuts

The labor movement is alive and growing in Washington State, as thousands slept over for a third night to protest proposed budget cuts: OLYMPIA, Wash. - Thousands of union members from all over Washington poured into the state Capitol Friday,

The labor movement is alive and growing in Washington State, as thousands slept over for a third night to protest proposed budget cuts:

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Thousands of union members from all over Washington poured into the state Capitol Friday, calling on lawmakers to "put people first" by ending corporate tax breaks and painful cuts to public programs.

The protest was by far the largest of four days of boisterous demonstrations in Olympia over spending cuts legislators are considering in order to help close a looming $5 billion budget deficit for the next two-year cycle.

Buses began arriving at the Capitol hours before the noon rally, carrying musicians, iron workers, firefighters and others concerned about the scarcity of jobs, the rising cost of college and the security of their pensions. The Washington State Patrol estimated 7,000 people gathered outside the main legislative building, while labor group leaders put the figure closer to 12,000.

Protesters said they hoped the demonstration would serve as a powerful reminder to lawmakers of who their decisions are affecting as they work to craft the state's next two-year budget. The House plans to vote Friday or Saturday on a budget plan that includes $4.4 billion in cuts, while the Senate will introduce its own proposal next week.

"We need to remind them that we need changes right now, not later," said Tim Haslett, an electrical worker and father of five from Seattle who has been unemployed for most of the past two years. "I'm trying to do everything I can to pay for my youngest daughter to go to college next year, but I don't know how I'm going to be able to do that if there are no jobs."

"We do not have a budget deficit," Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, one of the rally's main organizers, told the crowd. "We have a social services deficit, we have a jobs deficit, we have a revenue deficit, and we have a deficit of leadership."

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