Hundreds gather for Capitol rally against bill on unions

A diverse coalition of groups rallied Saturday at the Capitol to protest Senate Bill 469, which would restrict picketing and union membership.

"This is an extreme attack on our basic democratic rights," said Ben Speight of Teamsters Local 728, who attended the rally.  "It's also an attempt to bankrupt and destroy our unions."

The rally started off with songs and chants, and then the crowd estimated by police at several hundred people -- including union members and members of Occupy Atlanta -- marched around the Capitol three times before regrouping for more speeches.

"Some people can't speak up for themselves, but I know I have a strong voice," said Mary Sanders of Local 987 of the American Federation of Government Employees. "This bill should not pass; just let it go."

Speakers included state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta; former Atlanta City Council member Derrick Boazman; and the Rev. Anthony A.W. Motley of Lindsay Street Baptist Church, who said he was  there on behalf of the Rev. Joseph Lowery.

SB 469 would limit mass picketing outside private residences and fine individuals $1,000 a day -- and organizations as much as $10,000 as day -- if they ignore court orders to stop their protests. The bill passed the Senate and is expected to come up Monday in the House Industrial Relations Committee.

To sweeten the bill's chances, its sponsor, Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, amended it by exempting state teachers groups and police organizations from a mandate requiring members to put into writing every year that they want to pay union dues or organizational fees through paycheck deductions.