The state's two largest teachers unions are contemplating a merger after losing about 30 percent of their members in the wake of new collective bargaining rules and cuts in education funding.

AFT-Wisconsin, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, voted at its annual convention over the weekend to enter formal merger talks with the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

WEAC, an affiliate of the National Education Association, plans to discuss the same proposal at its annual Representative Assembly on Dec. 1.

AFT-Wisconsin President Brian Kennedy said the merger discussion is partly driven by the state's new collective bargaining law, known as Act 10. But the current discussion began in 2010 and the organizations have been gradually coordinating more of their efforts and services since 1991. Before then, the organizations feuded over membership.

"Now that recalls are over and we have a good sense of the future, we recognize that we're stronger together," Kennedy said.

The details of a merger would take at least a year to negotiate, Kennedy said. The earliest the unions could have an agreement in place under rules set by their national organizations would be Sept. 1, 2014.

WEAC President Mary Bell said a merger would allow both organizations to provide more services. But members might oppose a merger because the organization's cultures and structures are different.

Bell said WEAC is at about 71 percent of its pre-Act 10 level of about 98,000 members, which includes teachers, other school and technical college employees, university students and some state workers.

The membership drop mostly reflects an Act 10 provision that allows public employees to opt out of paying union dues. Bell said many members needed to offset higher contributions to pension and health insurance premiums. The reduction of more than 3,200 K-12 education positions last year also affected WEAC membership.

"Clearly, Act 10 has harmed unions — that's what the intent behind the legislation was," Bell said. "Our members are looking at everything right now with the mindset of 'How do we become stronger moving forward?'"

AFT-Wisconsin had about 17,500 members before Act 10 and is also down about 30 percent, Kennedy said. The losses came primarily from most of AFT's state employee units deciding not to recertify, which Act 10 required most public sector unions to do annually.

A federal judge struck down that requirement in March, and the matter is under appeal.

AFT's K-12 teacher membership has remained steady and its higher education ranks have grown, Kennedy said. He declined to provide specific numbers.

State AFT and NEA organizations have merged in New York, Montana, Minnesota and Florida, and are planning to merge next September in North Dakota, Kennedy said. Wisconsin likely would be the sixth state where the organizations join forces, though organizations in other states are also having discussions.

Paul Secunda, a Marquette University associate law professor and expert on labor, said non-teacher public sector unions have been merging in other states.

"This is a move by the teachers unions to put themselves in the strongest negotiating position possible," Secunda said.

— State Journal reporter Dan Simmons contributed to this report.

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(29) comments

MAGRN
MAGRN

I can clearly see that "demonization of educators" is still alive and well in our fair state. Act 10 was an abomination, and that fact is being proven in the courts now. Gov. Walkers war on women, teachers, environment, wolves, landscape, clean water etc etc has not gone unnoticed. While many people during the recall voted AGAINST unseating him, it was basically against the RECALL process itself. Radical tea bagging ideology, gutting badgercare and our educational system will come back to bite him very soon. I can feel it in my bones.

Norwood44
Norwood44

No one is demonizing teachers. We are asking them to be accountable. Poor teachers should improve or be dismissed. There is too much protectionism in many, not all, district contracts. Further, the benefits for nine months of work should be pegged to a cost of living scale and more closely resemble equitable private sector models. Finally, over the last three decades teachers have allowed their union leadership to make them political targets. This is lamentable but it was brought on by union dollars and political contributions for cushy contracts. The teachers decided to play politics .If you do, you run the chance of being demonized. And you were. If you don't like it, stop making huge campaign contributions to only one party.

PapaLorax
PapaLorax

The two unions have the same goal - prevent teachers from having a choice and mandate dues payment. Makes sense to me that this goes forward. I assume the main reason it didn't happen before was WEAC was ultra protective of their sweet deals around WEA.

Just look at the most recent contract between MTI and MMSD -- it shows the true power of Act 10. The union gave away everything to make sure they had two more years of dues.

Roundtable
Roundtable

What with the several lawsuits on behalf of public employees succeeding recently against Act 10, it's only a matter of time before we see it's demise.The total lack of respect for the unions and Act 10's failure to include the police and firefighters courts the idea that it was a poorly planned exercise for change.

wishiwasgolfing
wishiwasgolfing

Lawsuits on behalf of public employees will be overturned by the adults on the WI Supreme Court.

LiLa
LiLa

Yes, because choking someone you're upset with is a very adult thing to do.
\sarcasm

MSNbubble
MSNbubble

AFT membership down 30%. Sounds like Act 10 is working. Mary Bell should acquire Voces La Frontera. They're both sleazy.

non-union teacher
non-union teacher

Bell says in the article that the intent of Act 10 was to harm unions. Actually, the intent of Act 10 was to give teachers a choice!

Norwood44
Norwood44

Aeq gobbles at the trough, so of course she loves fat union contracts sans accountability. She should recuse herself from these discussions. Her bias prevents rational, constructive discussion and leaves a trail of hateful rhetoric on every board she posts. Her comments are worthy of Virginia Wolf. She, and others like her, are the Tea Party of the left, demagogues no different than Rush and Vicki.

moyboy25
moyboy25

This union brass are only out to save their own high paying jobs. They will layoff the little people in a heart beat insure their own positions. The truth is management of these unions are no different than the school administrations they complain about. Teachers in my school district complain about their union and state they would rather deal with school administration. Laughable.

They lost support of the people of this great state after rioting at our capitol.

SE WI
SE WI

Aequal - You aren't being consistent with your propaganda, an earlier rant said Walker had a 6-1 spending advantage and now you upped it to 8-1. At this rate you'll be up to 100-1 in no time. Also, I am not a billionaire or even a millionaire but I support Act 10.

WI_Expat
WI_Expat

How many lower office staff positions going to be eliminated in the merger????

After all those like aeq are for the little guy and this sounds like a merger to eliminate overhead costs

aequalitas
aequalitas

Funny thing. Republicans are all for mergers when it comes to corporations, such as Mobil-Exxon and the other few remaining oil companies. The Republicans seem to have no problem with those kinds of mergers, and the price of gasoline hovering or surpassing all-time highs, in the USA this past year.

However, talk of a union merger, produces comments such as this one
"Mitt4pres - The teachers have in the course of the last year shown their true colors. It has been a supreme tarnishing of the entire profession to align with the union lackeys. Where is excellence?"

So Republicans, explain why mergers are GOOD for oil companies, who are making all-time record profits as a result of their control of commodity; but mergers are BAD for unions, even when Scott Walker himself admits that his "divide and conquer" strategy on unions both public and private is meant to strengthen the Republican Party, not to save the state of Wisconsin any money.

QUOTE: "Walker’s admission is crucial because he had long claimed that his anti-union “budget repair bill” was designed to save the state money, not bust unions. But his words today echo those of Wisconsin state senate leader Scott Fitzgerald (R), who last month effectively admitted that the union fights are not about budgetary issues, but rather about winning the next election by depleting the ranks of organized labor."
UNQUOTE

I guess Republicans fear the mergers of labor unions make the entire Scott Walker "divide and conquer" strategy of union-busting a lot harder to undertake.

Big_Joe
Big_Joe

I had to look back at the comments to see all the anti-merger , aeq, and I don't see them. Me thinks thou protests too much. It's not anti merger--it's anti union--merger or no merger. The people spoke. The unions shrank. Now they'll merge. Yawn. The people will speak again next Tuesday, so get ready, cuz you won't like what you see.

aequalitas
aequalitas

You need look no further than you very own comment, mocking unions merging, to find anti-union-merger sentiment on this thread. You stated:
"Big_Joe - 2 hours ago The guardians of the status quo need to merge to regain their numbers and strength lest change be loosed upon the land."

The people spoke thanks to an 8 to 1 spending advantage, funded by shadowy super-pac conservative organizations. The same spending advantage in Barretts favor would have you and your "me-thinks" thinking "unfair", wouldn't it Big_Joe?

Big_Joe
Big_Joe

While you seem to take comfort in the notion that money spent equals votes cast, most people don't feel that their votes are for sale. Most would consider it an insult. BTW, I'll have to see how the spending is going between Tammy and Tommy so that I can determine who will win. I used to be guided by the old fashioned notion that people voted their preferences and beliefs.

Norwood44
Norwood44

Voters spoke in the recall. We want more equitable union contracts for citizens. We need better quality union workers serving citizens. The political power of the unions cannot work to make government bulky, unjust and costly. Whether these unions merge or not is immmaterial. We need more nimble, smarter government. Unions work against those principles in too many instances.

aequalitas
aequalitas

Voters certainly "spoke" in the recall election, but only in response to Scott Walker outspending Tom Barrett by about a 6 to 1 margin. If money can buy votes, that recall election was certainly an example of "money talks". As I just posted, even Scott Walker, when under oath, won't claim that public employee union-busting is actually a buget-saving measure.

Again:
QUOTE: "Walker’s admission is crucial because he had long claimed that his anti-union “budget repair bill” was designed to save the state money, not bust unions. But his words today echo those of Wisconsin state senate leader Scott Fitzgerald (R), who last month effectively admitted that the union fights are not about budgetary issues, but rather about winning the next election by depleting the ranks of organized labor."
UNQUOTE
http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/04/14/158690/walker-admits-union-money/?mobile=nc


Big_Joe
Big_Joe

Still clinging to the "money" argument, eh aeq?

aequalitas
aequalitas

Still clinging to the "voters spoke" argment, eh Big?

PapaLorax
PapaLorax

uh - yeah...that's why they count the ballots aequalitas

wishiwasgolfing
wishiwasgolfing

Blah, blah, blah. More disingenuous talk of "buying the election". Please come up with something new. Democrats conveniently forget about all the money that the unions spent on Barrett's behalf.

Mitt4pres
Mitt4pres

The teachers have in the course of the last year shown their true colors. It has been a supreme tarnishing of the entire profession to align with the union lackeys. Where is excellence?

Big_Joe
Big_Joe

The guardians of the status quo need to merge to regain their numbers and strength lest change be loosed upon the land.

aequalitas
aequalitas

Sounds like a something from an role-playing-game, Big Joe. Why not put some thought into the fact that Scott Walker's attacks on public sector unions have done NOTHING to assist our state's economy, and that Wisconsin continues to do WORSE than surrounding states on the jobs front. Face it, attacking education by taking $800 million dollars a year has boosted our economy, but only gained Walker favor with his billionaire, corporate-owner, financial backers. The Wisconsin budget project estimates that for every dollar donated to Scott Walker, a corporate donor gets back $100 in political favors. No wonder he raked in 8 times as much money as Tom Barrett did.

wishiwasgolfing
wishiwasgolfing

Typical lib comment. Look to the south, Illinois is in much worse shape. What will it take for you to understand that we can't afford the benefits given to the public sector unions???

Fartinthewind
Fartinthewind

If the unions want to rebuild membership can Mary Bell.

I would suggest that half the membership losses in WEAC are directly due to decisions undertaken by Bell and the rest of the leadership cadre at WEAC. If they won't fall on their own swords, the union should remove them.

Northwoodsvet
Northwoodsvet

Your comment matches your name. The fact is that Mary is term-limited, and a new President will be elected next April.

Nav
Nav

The merger would be a tremendous boost for the Unions. In unity there is strength. Act 10 is not permanen,t and once it is fully discarded, collective bargaining will be back in business.

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