Labor backers arrested at Tenn. Capitol protest

Associated Press
A state trooper pulls a pro-labor protesters who had disrupted a Senate Commerce Committee meeting in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. Seven protesters were later charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
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Troopers forcibly carried out seven union supporters from the Tennessee's legislative office complex on Tuesday after their protest disrupted a Senate committee hearing.

The disruption occurred after hundreds of labor supporters gathered for a midday protest near the Capitol to denounce a bill to strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights. The seven arrested were among those who stood up during the hearing and began chants about "union busting" by the Legislature.

Most demonstrators left the hearing room after a half-hour, but a small group tried to lock arms to keep from being removed.

Troopers pulled the holdouts out of the room one by one, while lawmakers, lobbyists and other observers looked on. Several fellow protesters shouted: "Shame!"

The protesters, some of whom were dragged to a nearby conference room, were arrested and faced charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville in a statement said he supports the right to protest and assemble peacefully in Tennessee. But he said the protesters went too far.

"This General Assembly will not be intimidated by nomadic bands of professional agitators on spring break bent on disruption," he said. "We talk through our differences here. Tennessee is not Wisconsin."

In Wisconsin, pro-union protesters packed the Statehouse for weeks trying to stop the Republican governor from pushing through laws to curb public employee unions.

Protester Jacob Flowers of Memphis said Ramsey and other lawmakers just don't understand the objective, and that "the people of Wisconsin showed what can happen when people act in solidarity with one another."

Regardless of the intentions, Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said such behavior will not be tolerated in the Legislature.

"We're going to make sure that the Legislature has an opportunity to conduct their business in a safe and secure way," he later told reporters. "And whatever we have to do to ensure that we will."

Sen. Bill Ketron, a Murfreesboro Republican who had at least three labor-related bills before the committee, agreed.

"It's part of our constitution to have the right to exercise your voice and your opinion," he said. "But there are proper places to voice that opinion. It was totally inappropriate to disrupt the business of the state of Tennessee."

The conference room where the arrested protesters were held was across the hall from Ketron's office. As they were escorted out one by one and onto an elevator, fellow protesters standing by cheered and continued chanting.

Tamara Henderson of Chattanooga witnessed troopers handcuff her 25-year-old daughter, Ash-Lee Henderson, and drag her down the hallway of the Legislative Plaza. She likened it to "people in Mississippi and Alabama who were hosed'" during the Civil Rights Movement.

"That's how I felt," said elder Henderson, who became emotional as she spoke. "Any of you guys got kids? You ever seen your child in shackles"

Kenneth Brown, 62, of Chattanooga came to support the teachers and said he was uncertain whether the protest would have an effect on lawmakers.

"There's not as many people as there is money in all this, and lawmakers hear the dollars," he said. "If they think it's going to hurt them in the polls, they may change their minds."

Rodriquez Lobbins was among several groups who traveled from Memphis to protest the collective bargaining rights and the labor-related legislation.

"All we want to do is work and have a say at the table to negotiate our wages, terms and conditions of employment," he said. "That's all we want to do, and to take that away and say that we can't collectively ban together, that's almost illegal. That's the way we feel about that."

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Online:

Read HB0130 at http://capitol.tn.gov

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