Some Wisconsin doctors threw their support behind teachers protesting the Republican governor's efforts to strip unions of their bargaining powers, saying they would write sick notes for teachers to skip work to demonstrate.
The union protesters have been picketing the state capitol in Madison for five days, angered by Gov. Scott Walker's proposed bill, which has the backing of the Republican controlled state Senate.
The Madison School District has said teachers who call in sick to protest won't be paid, but a group of licensed Wisconsin doctors came to the capitol today saying they would write a physician's note for anyone who asked.
Dr. Kathy Oriel told ABC affiliate WKOW-TV in Madison that the doctors realize they could get in trouble for their offer.
"We think its worth the risk," she said. "Teachers have no choice."
The physicians told WKOW-TV that they are acting on their own, not in connection with any hospitals or organizations, but they said the notes are valid.
The demonstrations heated up today, when thousands of supporter's of Walker's bill -- many of them bused in by tea party groups -- raised their voices against opponents outside the state capitol.
Despite the influx of supporters, pro-union activists were in the majority at the dueling rallies in Madison as nearly 70,000 people filled the square outside the capitol building. Tea party members' voices were added to the chorus of dissent on the fifth day of the massive, peaceful protests.
Walker supporters chanted "Pass the bill! Pass the bill!" as pro-union picketers shouted back "Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" Tea party protesters carried signs reading "Your Gravy Train Is Over … Welcome to the Recession" and "Sorry, we're late Scott. We work for a living."
As the five-day old demonstrations escalated, tea party groups pledged to begin recall efforts against the 14 Democratic state senators whose absence has left the legislature without a quorom, preventing Walker's bill from coming to a vote.
Despite the tens of thousands of demonstrators and the Democrats' disappearance, Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the budget bill will pass.
Speaking from a heavily guarded Senate parlor at the Capitol, Fitzgerald reassured supporters that the GOP-led state Senate will vote to approve it without changes, as soon as the legislature is able to reconvene.
"The bill is not negotiable," Fitzgerald said. "The bill will pass as is."
The counter-protest, which was announced by the Virginia and Wisconsin-based conservative group American Majority, was dubbed the I Stand With Scott Walker Rally, and was organized by American Majority executive director Matt Batzel.
"I think we're in for something special," Batzel told WISC-TV in Madison Friday. "We're expecting to have thousands of conservatives and tea party people representing the majority of Wisconsin who stand behind Gov. Walker on this bill."
"We did have an election and Scott Walker won," Deborah Arndt, 53, of Sheboygan Falls, Wis., told The Associated Press. "I think our governor will stand strong. I have faith in him."
Meanwhile, tea party members are forming two exploratory committees to recall two of the Wisconsin Democrats that fled the state on Thursday to protest the vote on the certain-to-pass bill, which will drastically cut state worker benefits and eliminate union bargaining rights.