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Thursday, December 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Overcast
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Protesters wait to speak at Wisconsin Capitol hearing late Tuesday night
Students and labor activists against Walker's bill filled the Capitol through the night.
Students and labor activists against Walker's bill filled the Capitol through the night.
Credit:Jack Keating

At 9 p.m. on Tuesday, the fourth floor of the Capitol is packed with people. Labor supporters are still waiting for their chance to address the Joint Finance Committee about Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill, which would end most collective bargaining rights for most of Wisconsin's public employees. The hearing began at 10 a.m., and 11 hours later the mood is tense.

As my group climbs the stairs, people sprint past us, trying to get their names on the list of speakers. A chant begins: "Let us speak!"

Finally, on the third floor, we bump into the end of the line. Here, the noise is deafening. It's hard to tell what's going on this far away from the hearing room, but a man running back and forth tells us that the Joint Finance Committee is no longer allowing people to sign up to speak.

We manage to pull aside Jacob Glicklich, vice president of bargaining for the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association. Glicklich says he would suffer from Walker's proposal to make public employees pay more for their benefits, as his small salary already qualifies him for food stamps.

We have to cut the interview short as the din becomes overwhelming. Disgruntled protesters on three flights of stairs begin chanting again.

On our way back downstairs, we try talking to a few more people. Democratic state Sen. Mark Miller, standing out from the casually dressed protesters in his suit and tie, affirms his opposition to Walker's budget bill.

When asked what she would do if she were Scott Walker, UW graduate student Jill Slaigh says, "I would resign!"

On the ground floor we meet Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. His bloodshot eyes suggest a long day. Walker exempted firefighters and police from the changes in his proposal, but Mitchell's union opposes it anyway.

"We understand that 'union' is more than just us," Mitchell says. "It's one goes, everybody else goes."

Custodian Kevin Meicher, a solitary figure pushing his broom, is one of the few people used to being in the Capitol so late at night. He takes out his ear buds to talk to us.

Meicher doesn't belong to a union, but he says Walker's bill will nonetheless affect his benefits. He sums up the feelings of thousands of people across the state: "There's gotta be a different way"

Additional reporting by Jack Keating, Eli Judge and Ian Rollo.

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