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Marchers call for guaranteed paid sick leave and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act Friday.[/media-credit]

Immigrant labor activists in the Madison area banded together Friday in “The March for the Poor, the Immigrants and the Workers” rally at the Capitol.

About 600 protesters demanded paid sick leave, passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and a withdrawal of the recent bus fare increase.

The rally corresponded with International Workers Day, and a series of speakers representing both student and local organizations spoke on behalf of immigrants and underpaid workers at the Capitol. The protestors then marched to the Dane County Building demanding equal rights.

Jim Cavanaugh, president of the South Central Federation of Labor, urged the marchers to support the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

According to Cavanaugh, the act would allow workers to form unions and enforce penalties on employers who violate the law.

“Workers should be assured of getting a union contract,” Cavanaugh said.

If passed, the Employee Free Choice Act would be the first pro-worker amendment to be passed in “a great many years,” Cavanaugh added.

Carolina Ortega, a representative from the student organization Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztl?n, a Chicano rights organization, said immigrants in Wisconsin should be provided equal education.

“Undocumented immigrant students should have the opportunity for education,” Ortega said.

According to Ortega, educated students will be able to find jobs, thereby creating an additional revenue source for the country.

Ortega also advocated giving immigrant students in-state tuition, adding the opportunity for an education would prevent many immigrants from being deported.

Member of the Student Environmental Action Coalition Bill Franks said immigrant workers should demand universal health care coverage now and argued for liberty and equality above all.

Franks emphasized the importance of joining a union, citing Franklin Delano Roosevelt as one of the many great Americans in support of workers’ unions.

“A trade union is as American as apple pie,” Franks said.

The crowd responded to Franks with shouts of agreement and cheers of “si se puede,” which in English translates to “yes we can.”

Barbara Smith, member of the Madison Area Bus Advocates, also spoke on behalf of the immigrant workers and opposed the recent fare increase.

“Bus riders should have the same rights as car users,” Smith said. “We should not have to pay more for using public transit.”

However, Dave Gorak, executive director of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration, said the rally was in contempt of the law.

“This is just one more demonstration that shows disrespect for the rule of law and the sovereignty of the American people,” Gorak said.

According to Gorak, the rally was not in support of immigrants, but instead supported people illegally entering the United States.

“These people are here in violation of the law, so they have no rights,” Gorak said. “They should be back in their own countries demanding things of their own government, not ours.”

Other speakers in attendance included representatives from Progressive Dane, the Immigrant Workers Union, Student Progressive Dane and the International Socialist Organization.