State's largest teachers unions agree to enter merger talks

2012-12-03T07:30:00Z 2012-12-03T20:52:59Z State's largest teachers unions agree to enter merger talksMATTHEW DeFOUR | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6144

The state’s two largest teachers unions will formally discuss a merger after the Wisconsin Education Association Council voted to do so at a special assembly in Madison over the weekend.

The WEAC Representative Assembly met Saturday at the Alliant Energy Center for the first time in special session since 1972 to discuss the future of the organization.

Leaders of both WEAC, an affiliate of the National Education Association, and AFT-Wisconsin, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, say their membership has declined about 30 percent since the state’s new collective bargaining law, known as Act 10, took effect.

A standing committee of both unions recommended merger talks, and AFT-Wisconsin approved participation in October.

“It’s more useful to us to work together,” WEAC president Mary Bell said. “We’ve had a relationship with AFT for decades, and that relationship has solidified over the past two years.”

The special assembly also discussed proposed changes to WEAC’s business model. Bell said the organization was built around collective bargaining, but that was challenged after Gov. Scott Walker and a Republican-controlled Legislature overhauled collective bargaining for public sector workers in early 2011. The law prohibited unions from bargaining over benefits and working conditions. It also meant union dues were no longer mandatory.

The law exempted unions with collective bargaining agreements in place until the agreements expired. The majority of the state’s 424 school districts extended collective bargaining agreements into the 2011-12 school year, but many of those expired June 30.

Some of the state’s largest school districts, including Madison, Milwaukee, Kenosha and Janesville, had agreements through this school year, so members of those unions haven’t had the option of not paying dues.

WEAC executive director Dan Burkhalter said the organization has retained about 65 to 70 percent of members once dues become optional. The dues had been about $300 for the state organization and between $600 and $1,000 when adding in local and national dues.

WEAC membership, which was 98,000 before Act 10, also has declined over the past year as the state saw a reduction of more than 3,200 K-12 education positions.

“Our business model has been busted up,” Burkhalter said. “We can’t play on the field we’ve been playing.”

WEAC now expects to focus on providing support to its local members as they advocate for certain policies at the school board level. Previously the organization had more of a regional and statewide focus, often ranking among the top campaign contributors and lobbying forces in the state.

In a statement, WEAC said among the 1,000 members who attended the special assembly, many said there are benefits to merging both Wisconsin chapters of the national unions, but the most important reason is to strengthen and unify the voices of public education advocates. Other benefits discussed included having additional resources at the federal level.

“It’s about building local union power,” Kenosha teacher Michael Orth said. “That’s what we need to do.”

If the organizations agree to merge, the soonest it would take effect would be fall 2014. There are four other merged state affiliates in New York, Montana, Minnesota and Florida, and one planned for next September in North Dakota.

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(29) Comments

  1. Lionhear
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    Lionhear - December 03, 2012 5:35 pm
    Hear, hear. Good and true post!
  2. Lionhear
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    Lionhear - December 03, 2012 5:32 pm
    But they can call in sick.
  3. rpete
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    rpete - December 03, 2012 4:03 pm
    This is also a bad argument since most teachers have, at a minimum, a Master's Degree. During the 9 months that they are in school, many teachers work anywhere from 60-80 hours a week.
  4. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - December 03, 2012 12:21 pm
    that is a lame argument - what's your point that they can work a second job to pick up the salary? That they shouldn't get annual benefits?
  5. WI_Retiree
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    WI_Retiree - December 03, 2012 8:51 am
    Teachers work for nine months and are paid for twelve.
  6. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - December 03, 2012 8:26 am
    There is a difference between the people running the union and the union reps at a particular school (or school district)...or at least people should recognize there is a difference.
  7. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - December 03, 2012 8:24 am
    Of course they did strike in response to Act 10. Unless you feel organized work stoppages are not striking...I mean get real. MTI voted on a Sunday whether to continue the "sick-out" or not. If that isn't a strike...
  8. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 03, 2012 8:24 am
    Common sense. Teachers are paid to be good. And student centric. That isn't extra credit. That's the job. The minimum.
  9. Thurston Howell III
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    Thurston Howell III - December 03, 2012 8:12 am
    Can't strike, or don't strike? They're two different things. And strikes (labor actions, if you prefer) take many different forms. Just ask Johnnie Matthews...he'll give you a primer.

    Private schools have been around forever, but people are fleeing to them now, not going to them because of some affiliation. The reason people are paying the extra cost of private schools today is because of the poor quality of the public schools. Just ask their administrators.
  10. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - December 03, 2012 6:56 am
    "I had to work for a living just like virtually everyone else I knew. I knew no peons."

    If you had to work for a living, you understand WHY they're not really peons, a viewpoint not shared by the corporatists who resent any intrusion at all on their ability to call the shots unilaterally. To them the only significant distinction is between peons with some power and peons without any.
  11. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - December 03, 2012 6:52 am
    Neither does anyone else, including union members.
  12. commonsense7474
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    commonsense7474 - December 03, 2012 6:46 am
    Norwood44, The Union leaders in my district are hard-working student-centric teachers who work along side me in my building and in other buildings across the district. You may know them as some of those people you met with last month to discuss the progress of your child and to form strategies for their success.
  13. commonsense7474
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    commonsense7474 - December 03, 2012 6:35 am
    TH |||, You do understand that teachers in WI can't strike, right? Also, there have been private schools around forever.
  14. commonsense7474
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    commonsense7474 - December 03, 2012 6:31 am
    Eclectic, taking a quote out of context does not support your point.
  15. commonsense7474
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    commonsense7474 - December 03, 2012 6:29 am
    Really, Victor? Our school district did not use insurance from WEAC and had been saving our taxpayers money for years.
  16. AutumnBlaze
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    AutumnBlaze - December 03, 2012 6:08 am
    Got a little time on your hands on that deserted island, Mr. Howell? This is probably the most leveled reaction I've seen to all of this. One has to ask the question why union membership has declined 30% since Act 10 became law and the answer is right there in front of you - people now have the choice whether or not to pay dues. One other thing no one ever seems to mention anymore is that the unions used to have secret negotiations with the state away from taxpayer eyes where they would make unscrupulous demands of taxpayer money without ever asking the taxpayer what their opinon was. The taxpayers spoke in response loud and clear - do the unions hear us now? Their chickens have come home to roost.
  17. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - December 03, 2012 5:00 am
    I thought that you knew better. The poor me is not working very well. Many "corporatists" are quite left-leaning. I see quite clear differences between private and public employee unions. That difference, primarily, is the tempering of the market for private unions.

    I had to work for a living just like virtually everyone else I knew. I knew no peons.

    Many times you make a lot of sense. Sometimes less.
  18. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - December 02, 2012 11:40 pm
    These 2 organizations have been discussing merger for decades. The stumbling block has always been that the National Education Association (with which WEAC is affiliated) had a fundamentally different view of their role that the American Federation of Teachers (with which WFT is affiliated). The NEA envisioned itself as a professional association, akin to the equivalent for doctors, lawyers, and dentists, and viewed collective bargaining with some distaste as, I dunno, beneath their dignity or something. The AFT was unabashedly a labor union, making common cause with plumbers, truck drivers, and janitors.
    Since the right-wing corporatists don't make much distinction between those 2 world views — they think of EVERYONE who works for a living as a worthless peon — it's become less important for the teachers themselves to subscribe to it.
  19. Northwoodsvet
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    Northwoodsvet - December 02, 2012 10:57 pm
    Lot of hate here today. Also a lot of ignorance. But I repeat myself.
  20. smallfry
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    smallfry - December 02, 2012 8:52 pm
    So, it all about lower taxes? OK!!
  21. racedog48
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    racedog48 - December 02, 2012 8:52 pm
    Free thinkers don't sign their lifes and souls to the unions
  22. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 02, 2012 8:11 pm
    Isn't time for teachers to rise up against this union leadership? How much longer can you be embarrassed by these leaders and the poor teachers among you who are protected for life?
    Grow up. Stand up.
  23. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 02, 2012 8:09 pm
    Shake compares anyone who wants to reign in the most powerful and wealthy political lobby in the state as someone who favors Hitler. How ignorant for a teacher, and worse, a sorry cliche' that was defeated twice by voters in a free democracy. How many times do you have to lose before you understand that union abuses will no longer be tolerated by citizens? Unless you were referring to Charlie Chaplin.
  24. Shake
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    Shake - December 02, 2012 5:40 pm
    Union haters = class traitors.
  25. Shake
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    Shake - December 02, 2012 5:39 pm
    You know who else hated unions? Little guy, funny mustache.
  26. happydays
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    happydays - December 02, 2012 1:22 pm
    maybe they can bargain for liposuction. In Buffalo, NY it is paid benefit. You know that benefits the children
  27. Thurston Howell III
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    Thurston Howell III - December 02, 2012 1:09 pm
    Act 10 has finally leveled the playing field a bit, and given local school boards the opportunity to manage their schools for the benefit of the community - not for the benefit of the teacher's union. Until Act 10, local school boards were ill equipped to deal with heavily financed unions that ruled the schools for their own benefit - with the result that costs endlessly escalated with no improvement in student's performance. The headlock the unions had on school boards with their ability to finance their own candidates, and the ability to unilaterally close the schools with a strike without the corresponding ability of the school district to hire replacements, has all but destroyed the public school system in this country.

    Public schools were always viewed as a bulwark of American society. But, over the past 20-30 years, that has changed dramatically, and they are now often viewed by the public as a drag on American society. The rise of charter schools, the demand for vouchers, and the flight of the middle class to private schools and suburban districts is not a coincidence - but it does coincide directly with the rise of the teacher's unions. I think even the teacher's themselves largely realize this, and the union membership will continue to decline as more have the option NOT to join.

    The schools have not crashed and burned since Act 10 was implemented, and the teachers have not been thrown into abject poverty and subjected to unbearable working conditions - all the nonsense spouted off by Mary Bell and her idiot cabal on the Square. Given the chance, local school boards will run the schools in the best interest of their communities, not for the benefit of the unions...except in Madison, of course. Then, maybe school performance will begin to improve, and public support for the schools will return.

    Thank you Governor Walker for allowing the people of the state to regain control of their schools.
  28. eclectic
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    eclectic - December 02, 2012 1:05 pm

    It’s about building local union power,” Kenosha teacher Michael Orth said.

    How many millions of dollars did WEAC spend spreading the lie that "It's all about the kids"?
  29. Victor Zeller
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    Victor Zeller - December 02, 2012 10:58 am
    Union membership has been declining over the past 50 years. Only about 12% of the entire workforce in the USA is union and of that, 8% are the uncivil servants. Teacher's union should be abolished along with tenure. Unions protect the lazy and the incompetent.
    The WEAC also got their hand slapped out the cookie jar by being the only group in the state that was allowed to sell health insurance to the school districts. Since Act 10 was passed the school districts could go out and by health insurance on the open market, thus saving the honest, hardworking taxpayers millions of dollars. Property tax have decreased, the budget is balanced and there is finally a surplus in the state treasury.
    What Governor Walker did for the state has been fantastic. In spite of the millions of dollars the unions used to try and recall him, the HONEST taxpayers proved that what they want are lower taxes and to NOT pay for union benefits.

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