The statewide teachers union issued layoff notices to 42 employees Monday, about 40 percent of its staff, blaming Gov. Scott Walker's "union-busting" legislation.
The executive director of the Wisconsin Education Association Council said the collective bargaining law — which ends payroll deduction for union dues, among other things — forced the layoffs.
"Despite the budget cuts and layoffs our goal remains the same," said Dan Burkhalter, executive director of WEAC. "To be a strong and viable organization that represents the voices of Wisconsin's public school employees."
Walker's spokesman said the governor had no comment.
The Madison-based WEAC has traditionally been one of the biggest powerbrokers in the state, spending $2.5 million lobbying state lawmakers in 2009 and 2010, more than any other group, according to the Government Accountability Board.
It has spent more than $4 million trying to influence Wisconsin elections since 2008, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The group filed an oath with the Government Accountability Board opposing all Republican senators eligible for recall in last week's elections.
The shrinking size of WEAC's office staff could be a bellwether for the future of other public sector unions in the state.
The law reduces public employees' take-home pay to cover more of the costs of pension and health care premiums, requires annual union recertification votes and forbids collective bargaining on things like vacations, sick pay, seniority preferences, overtime and grievance procedures.
"Across the state, school districts are eliminating positions either through layoffs or not hiring staff," Burkhalter said in a conference call with reporters. "Fewer school employees means loss of revenue for WEAC that represents them."
Before the new law, WEAC represented about 98,000 public education employees. But about a third of those employees are no longer under contract with the state, which means that WEAC needs to get those individuals to sign up as members.
Burkhalter declined to say how many of those employees have voluntarily signed up as WEAC members.
"We had to make decisions about this budget year that starts in a couple weeks, based on the number of members we have now," Burkhalter said.
WEAC's budget year runs from September 2011 to August 2012.
The union issued 42 layoff notices Monday and posted six new positions, which will be filled internally. Some staff will choose early retirement, Burkhalter said. He said he is optimistic the "environment will change" and he will be able to call people back to work.
Other public sector unions have taken hits, too.
Seven of 38 staff positions are being left vacant at American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 40, which represents about 32,000 local government workers in Wisconsin outside Milwaukee County, executive director Rick Badger said Monday.
Council 40 leaders will assess dues collections next year and decide on whether further reductions are needed, Badger said.
The union is working on obtaining dues commitments from about 3,000 members whose contracts have expired. Contracts will lapse for another 9,500 on Jan. 1.
"Part of the (state's) goal was to weaken labor unions," Badger said. "Forcing labor unions to cut staff certainly serves that goal."