A Report from AFT-Wisconsin's 2014 Convention
I’ve always loved attending our AFT-Wisconsin convention. Spending time with union leaders and activists from across our state is a great reminder of the diversity and strength of our membership. And beyond that, it energizes me, as a public sector employee and as a union member, for the important work that lies ahead of us in Wisconsin.
This was a very busy and eventful convention, but I wanted to share some highlights from Green Bay (beyond the Packers’ shellacking of the Eagles on Sunday) with those of you who weren’t able to attend. One of my favorite sessions was a panel of AFT-Wisconsin members on Friday afternoon, in which leaders from three of our local unions shared stories of successful organizing campaigns in their locals. Jon Shelton of UW-Green Bay United, Kathy Evert of the Wisconsin Heights Federation of Teachers, and Michael Billeaux of the Teaching Assistants’ Association talked about their efforts to bring union members together to advocate in their worksites, which was followed by a lively Q&A session with delegates. I’d like to thank Jon, Kathy, and Michael for being outstanding examples of union activism, and for sharing their stories with convention delegates.
We were also fortunate to honor several individuals, as well as one of our local unions, for receiving prestigious awards. Kathy Monaghan, Linda Baehr, and Joy Bashara received AFT Living Legacy Awards for their years of service both as labor movement activists and as role models and advocates for women’s rights. Bob Beglinger was honored as a Senior Champion by the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans for his work on behalf of retirees and retirement security in Wisconsin. AFT Local 212, the union of faculty and staff at Milwaukee Area Technical College, was awarded one of two grants from the AFT for Solution-Driven Unionism for their work in increasing graduation and course completion rates on campus. And Tim Hawks, AFT-Wisconsin legal counsel, announced that Barbara Quindel, his partner in their legal firm Hawks and Quindel and an outstanding, passionate defender of workers’ legal rights, was named the national American Bar Association’s Arvid Anderson Public Sector Labor and Employment Attorney of the Year. Congratulations to each of these individuals, and to Local 212, for their outstanding work!
Members were joined by two outstanding Wisconsin legislators during the convention. On Thursday night, Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) discussed the retirement security crisis in Wisconsin and the rest of the country, and talked about legislation he has authored that calls for the creation of a private sector version of the Wisconsin Retirement System to help ensure retirement security for all Wisconsinites. And on Friday night at our Committee on Political Education reception, we were joined by Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), a former public defender and still a dues-paying member of local 4822, the Wisconsin State Public Defenders Association. Rep. Goyke talked with us about the need for politicians who are proud to stand up for workers’ rights, fair wages, high-quality public education, and strong public services; and called on members to engage in political activism at the community level to begin the hard work of rebuilding a Wisconsin that works for all of us.
On Saturday, our delegates passed many amendments to our constitution and bylaws, including shifting from an annual convention to a convention held every odd-numbered year, as is the practice of the national AFT and the AFL-CIO. The latter change, delegates felt, would allow us to shift additional resources to supporting the work of our local unions in a more direct way.
I’d like to thank each of our delegates that attended, and to encourage all of you to consider attending our 2015 convention. The ideas that we discussed and the stories that we shared last weekend point the way to a bright future for AFT-Wisconsin and our locals, and I look forward to working together with all of you to make that happen.
A Call To Action
Yesterday’s election results were disappointing, to say the least. With Scott Walker’s reelection, we’re going to have some tough fights on our hands in the coming months. We must remain vigilant against many threats that are likely to come our way, including forced public school privatization, outsourcing of state positions, further cuts to higher education, and centralization of power in the state technical college system. But while the political environment in the Capitol will continue to present us with challenges, remember—AFT-Wisconsin members are resilient. We’ve already taken the hardest punch that Scott Walker could throw at us, and we’re still standing together. Even in the face of hostile politicians and corporate interests, we’ve shown that we won’t give up our voices in our workplaces and our communities.
So let’s take a moment to mourn yesterday’s loss, but let’s not allow it to alter our focus from what’s really important—the source of our strength, the organized local union. Ever since the passage of Act 10, AFT-Wisconsin members have been leading the way in our state, demonstrating that our power doesn’t come from the law, or from a politician, or from a contract. Our power comes from our organized numbers, and no election can take that away. That’s how our members have continued to make gains in their workplaces since 2011, successfully advocating for pay increases, workplace policy changes, and new structures for employee input beyond collective bargaining. We’ve shown that we can remain strong no matter who’s sitting in the governor’s office, and I’m excited to see what’s next for our local unions.
Despite our loss in the governor’s race, there were, however, several bright spots in yesterday’s results that I’d like to celebrate. AFT-Wisconsin and Wisconsin AFL-CIO endorsed candidates won in many districts, including victories by Janis Ringhand and Janet Bewley in their races for the Wisconsin Senate. I’d like to congratulate these candidates on their success, and we look forward to working with them on issues of importance to our members and to Wisconsin’s working families.
Finally, I’d like to thank each one of you for your efforts to strengthen our movement. Recently, the hundreds and hundreds of hours that you’ve put into this election have been the most visible work. But I also want to thank our local union heroes. The building representatives and stewards who take time to talk about their union with a new colleague. The local officers who make sure that membership lists are up-to-date and who keep members in the loop with regular emails and newsletters. The bargaining team members who negotiate the best possible base wage agreement and advocate for compensation beyond base wages. The brand-new members who signed their first union cards in September. You are the reason that I am full of hope and excitement for the future of our movement, and I couldn’t be prouder to be your fellow AFT-Wisconsin member.
Join AFT President Randi Weingarten to tell TIME: Stop attacking America's teachers!
Time magazine is about to use its cover to blame teachers for every problem in America's schools. On Monday, Nov. 3, this cover will be in every supermarket checkout line and newsstand across the country—and it's already online.
When I saw this today, I felt sick. This Time cover isn't trying to foster a serious dialogue about solutions our schools need—it's intentionally creating controversy to sell more copies.
Tell Time's editors to apologize for this outrageous attack on America's teachers.
The millionaires and billionaires sponsoring these attacks on teacher tenure claim they want to get great teachers into the schools that serve high-need kids. It's a noble goal, but stripping teachers of their protections won't help.
In fact, this blame-and-shame approach only leads to low morale and high turnover, making it even harder to get great teachers into classrooms. Just today, constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky wrote a fact-based argument 1 that tenure protections help recruit and retain high-quality teachers! In fact, there is a strong correlation between states with strong teacher tenure and high student performance.
And Time's cover doesn't even reflect its own reporting. The Time article itself looks at the wealthy sponsors of these efforts. And while it looks critically at tenure, it also questions the testing industry's connections to Silicon Valley and the motives of these players.
But rather than use the cover to put the spotlight on the people using their wealth to change education policy, Time's editors decided to sensationalize the topic and blame the educators who dedicate their lives to serving students. The cover is particularly disappointing because the articles inside the magazine present a much more balanced view of the issue. But for millions of Americans, all they’ll see is the cover and its misleading attack on teachers.
There are serious challenges facing our schools—tell Time that blaming teachers won't solve anything.
When we work together instead of pointing fingers, we know we can help students succeed.
In places like New Haven, Conn., Lawrence, Mass., Los Angeles' ABC school district and many others, union-district collaboration is leading to real change2.
Instead of pitting students and teachers against each other, these districts are showing how we can build welcoming, engaging schools by working together to give kids the education they deserve. As a result of this collaborative approach, once-struggling schools all over America are turning around.
When we collaborate, we're able to recruit AND retain high-quality teachers, and reclaim the promise of a high-quality education for every student.
And when we work together, we can also change tenure to make it what it was supposed to be—a fair shake before you are fired, not a job for life, an excuse for administrators not to manage or a cloak for incompetence.
But instead of a real debate, Time is using the cover to sensationalize the issue so it can sell magazines.
Tell Time magazine to apologize for blaming teachers in order to sell magazines.
We need to have a substantive, facts-based conversation about the challenges our schools face and the real solutions that will help educators and kids succeed.
Help us tell Time that blaming teachers isn't the way to help struggling schools.
1 "Teacher Tenure: Wrong Target"
2 "Four Solutions to Public School Problems"
Local 212 members rally to fight student loan debt
You’ve probably heard about the student loan debt crisis in America. As politicians have cut state funding for our public colleges and universities over the years, tuition has gone up—way up—and students have been left with the bill. Making matters worse, the economic recovery in Wisconsin has been abysmal thanks to Scott Walker’s failed policies, and the good-paying jobs that would help Wisconsinites repay their student loans just aren’t there. As a result, the average debt per student in Wisconsin is nearly $25,000, while Wisconsin is at the bottom of the Midwest in job creation.
That’s why I’m glad to share these great photos from a recent event sponsored by AFT Local 212 at Milwaukee Area Technical College with you. Members of Local 212 wanted to raise awareness about the trillion-dollar student loan debt industry and share some ideas about what we can do about it. For this event, held on September 8,Local 212 members teamed up with One Wisconsin Now to bring film director Andrew Rossi to campus to screen his new documentary, Ivory Tower, which takes a critical look at the business model that is overtaking American higher education and the trillion dollars of student loan debt that has come along with it. As Local 212 member Brandy Ferrara, an instructor at MATC, put it, “I'm here today to stand in support of student loan relief. I myself have student loans. I teach because I want to educate my students, and I don’t want them coming out into the workforce in the same situation I am. Many of our students at MATC may be the first in their families to seek an education beyond high school, and they get disheartened because they look at their student loan debt and think to themselves ‘Why is it even worth it to go to school?’”
You can check out the rally photos, taken by Local 212 member Sue Ruggles, here:
Local 212 members worked hard to reach out to students at MATC for this event, since they’re the ones who will be stuck with the bill for this crisis. David James, an MATC student who attended the event, pointed to the uncertain economy when asked why he was attending the rally: “I’m here to let politicians know the plight students feel right now. We’re the future and right now there is very limited accessibility to an education and a lack of good-paying jobs once you graduate.”
I’m proud of our members at Local 212 for their work to educate their community on this crucial action. Are you interested in helping organize events like this, on student loan debt or other issues, in your community? Click here to sign up if you’d like to stand up with your fellow union members to advocate for high-quality public education and public services in Wisconsin.
Voter ID Information
We are currently putting together more information for members on the implementation of Voter ID this election cycle. In the meantime, please visit the GAB (link - http://gab.wi.gov/elections-voting/photo-id) for more information.
Legal Update from AFT-Wisconsin
Dear AFT-Wisconsin members,
This morning, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its ruling in Madison Teachers, Inc. v. Walker, in which the Court’s conservative majority overturned Judge Juan Colas’s 2012 decision that found most of Act 10 unconstitutional for municipal employees. The decision did not affect our state employee and UW System unions, which have been operating under Act 10 since 2011. As expected, a majority of the Court upheld the law, which is no surprise—the conservative ideologues that make up the Court’s majority have reliably sided with Scott Walker and big-money special interests in nearly every major case over the past few years. This decision is aptly summarized by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, joined by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, in her dissent, which states that "the majority's failure to address the actual issues presented in this case allows it to reach results that countenance the needless diminution of multiple constitutional rights." While I (and our legal counsel) strongly disagree with the Court’s opinion, today’s decision closes the books on the major legal challenges to Act 10. (You can read AFT-Wisconsin’s press release on today’s decision below.)
But since the passage of Act 10, AFT-Wisconsin members have rediscovered the fact that we don’t have to depend on the law to claim our voice in the workplace and in our state. In the last few years, I’ve been inspired by the energy and activism of AFT-Wisconsin members as we advocate for quality education and services, fight for fair treatment in our workplaces, and organize for social justice in our communities. No legislation can take that power away from us.
Today’s decision underscores, however, the crucial need for change in Wisconsin this November. We have an excellent chance to defeat Scott Walker and elect champions to the state legislature that will fight for working Wisconsinites. Will you sign the pledge to vote and take action this fall? And the Wisconsin AFL-CIO will be kicking off its voter contact and voter education program this Saturday—visit our website to find out about volunteer opportunities in your area!
Today’s decision is an unfortunate one, to be sure. But it won’t lessen our resolve or diminish our strength if we remain united.
AFT-WISCONSIN PRESIDENT KIM KOHLHAAS ON MTI V. WALKER: DECISION “UNFORTUNATE, BUT EXPECTED”
Madison, WI: Responding to today’s Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in Madison Teachers, Inc. et al v. Walker et al, AFT-Wisconsin President Kim Kohlhaas, a teacher in the Superior School District, expressed regret in the Court’s decision, but was confident that the members of AFT-Wisconsin and other public sector unions would continue to advocate in their workplaces and in their communities. “Today’s decision in MTI v. Walker was unfortunate, but expected,” said Kohlhaas. “The sad fact is that the same wealthy donors and corrupt CEOs that support Scott Walker were the major funders of the Court’s conservative majority, so we are disappointed—but not surprised—that these justices voted to support Walker’s anti-union, anti-worker legislation. As stated by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in her dissent, which was joined by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, this decision results in 'the needless diminution of multiple constitutional rights' for Wisconsin workers."
According to Kohlhaas, today’s decision, in which the Court overturned a judge’s 2012 decision that struck down major portions of Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation, won’t diminish the resolve of public sector union members. “Today’s decision doesn’t change much for our members, who are amazing advocates for workers’ voices in their workplaces, strong public services, and high-quality public education. They know that no law or court decision can take away their ability to work together to improve their workplaces, their communities, and their state. Scott Walker, aided by his conservative allies in the Court, may have taken away one of our tools in collective bargaining. But our members know that you can always use other tools to get the job done, and that’s exactly what they’re doing, through meaningful discussions with management, solidarity in their workplaces, and activism in their communities.”
AFT-WISCONSIN LEADERS URGE LEGISLATORS TO PROTECT WTCS LOCAL CONTROL
Madison, WI: As legislators and other committee members met on Thursday, July 24, to discuss drastic centralization of power in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS), members of AFT-Wisconsin called on the committee to keep WTCS decision-making power in Wisconsin’s communities. AFT-Wisconsin President Kim Kohlhaas, a teacher in the Superior School District, urged the committee to protect a system that gives each technical college the ability to respond to local needs and provide high-quality practical education. “The structure of the WTCS gives our technical colleges the ability to meet with employers in their communities and provide classes and programs that meet their needs. Employment needs in a community change rapidly, and decisions about how to operate a WTCS college need to be made by people with strong ties to that community. If that power is taken away from our communities, our technical colleges will lose their ability to quickly adapt to local employment and educational needs.”
Michael Gradinjan, an electrical instructor at Moraine Park Technical College who is also the president of his local union and the AFT-Wisconsin WTCS Council Vice-President, said that the proposed centralization would take control of Wisconsin’s technical colleges away from the people who are best equipped to make decisions. “Taking decision-making power out of the hands of our local technical college boards and putting it into the hands of political appointees in Madison with no connection to our communities would be a disaster. The Wisconsin Technical College System is successful because each college is given the ability to make decisions about what is best for our students and our communities. How could it be a good idea to take that power away from people who live and work in the area and give it to people who may never set foot on my campus?”
AFT-Wisconsin President Kim Kohlhaas on Harris v. Quinn
Dear AFT-Wisconsin members,
Like many of you, I have been anxiously awaiting the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn, a case which threatened to eliminate fundamental workers’ rights across the entire public sector. In this case, an extreme right-wing anti-union organization, the Right to Work Legal Foundation, used a dispute over a recently formed union for home health care workers in Illinois to attempt to outlaw fair share fees and even the right to exclusive union representation in the entire public sector of the United States. While the Court’s conservative majority sided with right-wing special interests in their decision, dealing a substantial blow to our sister and brother home health care workers in Illinois and elsewhere, the decision did not, as feared, impact the right to exclusive union representation in the public sector or the ability to require all public employees to pay their fair share of the cost of their representation. This, at least, is something to be grateful for.
(To ensure that we can remain in touch, and to build our local union strength, please take this brief survey to update your contact information and indicate how you’d like to get involved at the local level with your union. Thanks! https://leadernet.aft.org/webform/aft-wisconsin-workplace-action-signup-form)
As you know, of course, we have already experienced these attacks—and more—here in Wisconsin, where we’re familiar with conservative politicians and judges trying to silence our voice through anti-union laws and legal decisions. But thanks to the strength and resiliency of our local union leaders and activists, we’re still here, three years after the passage of Act 10. We’re a different union, but in many ways, we’re stronger than we were before, because we’ve been forced to fight for what we used to take for granted. So my message to our public sector union brothers and sisters around the country is this: Don’t let your union be defined by court cases, pieces of legislation, or even contracts. We’ve learned this the hard way in Wisconsin, but we know now that our power comes—and has always come—from shared passion and commitment to workers’ rights, robust public services, and high-quality public education. This power can never be taken from us if we remain organized and vigilant.
Whether or not we enjoy comprehensive collective bargaining rights, fair share provisions, or a strong grievance and arbitration process, the moment we let such things define our unions is the moment that we allow our power to be taken from us, because all of these things can be removed by a single court decision or piece of legislation. Moreover, we know that Harris v. Quinn won’t be the last attempt to do so—many more court cases, and many more anti-union laws, are sure to follow. Therefore, I encourage all of my sisters and brothers in the public sector to organize as if the Supreme Court’s conservative majority had taken the extreme steps that we all feared. An organized workplace is one in which union members have a real voice, regardless of whether it is through collective bargaining or other means. And an organized union is one which people will want to join, regardless of whether fair share contributions are required or not.
Our hearts are with Illinois’ home health care workers, who have suffered a substantial loss this week in Washington, D.C. But all of us, in Wisconsin and across the country, should take this decision as a reminder of the fundamental importance of organizing in our own workplaces. No court or politician can ever take that power away from us.
To help AFT-Wisconsin keep in touch, will you take a moment to fill out this very brief survey to update your contact information and indicate how you’d like to get involved in your local union’s organizing efforts? Thanks! (https://leadernet.aft.org/webform/aft-wisconsin-workplace-action-signup-form)
Mary Burke comes to speak with AFT-Wisconsin members and executive board about her strategy for restoring Wisconsin values and the middle class.
Important News on Merger
I’m writing to let you know about an important development in the proposed merger of AFT-Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC). As you know, a vote on merger was originally scheduled to take place in April at both the WEAC and AFT-W conventions. Last Saturday, WEAC’s Board of Directors voted to postpone a full merger vote.
One key reason the WEAC Board cited for this difficult decision was member concerns regarding the different dues structures of AFT-W and WEAC. Under the original plan for a possible merger, this issue would have been resolved over a two-year trial period once both unions had approved merger. Instead, a special committee will now be put in place with representatives from both organizations. The committee’s job will be addressing how to harmonize our two unions’ different systems into one fair, effective dues structure that ensures all members get the staff and services they need. AFT-W will take full part in this committee, which is slated to make its recommendations by the end of 2014. Based on this new timetable, a merger vote then could take place in early 2015.
I want to assure you that AFT-W’s leadership remains committed to this merger process. Everywhere AFT and NEA unions have merged, from Florida to Minnesota, they’ve formed an even stronger union. We need that in Wisconsin right now—for ourselves and for the people we serve. We hold the line for them on quality and access in education and public services. We must speak with one voice.
Many of you have put a lot of time and effort toward a merger vote this April, and I thank you for your commitment. While I had hoped to see the vote this April, I’m not discouraged. We’re looking at a change in the timetable—not in our ultimate goal. WEAC and AFT-Wisconsin are both still dedicated to that goal.
We will be having an AFTW tele-town hall on Tuesday, March 4, at 7:00. It is important AFTW members have an opportunity to hear from me about the postponement and the plans for AFTW. In addition, members will be able to address their concerns and have your questions answered. Members will receive a robo call on Tuesday evening. I hope that you can participate.
In addition, AFT-W executive board has motioned to reschedule the AFT-W Annual Convention, scheduled for April 26, to November 13-15 as originally planned. Please mark your calendars.
As I travel around the state, I see firsthand that Wisconsin has the best teaching force and public employee force in this nation, in WEAC and AFT-W alike. Our working together can only make us stronger. Thank you for being engaged in this merger process, and I hope you’ll continue to be.
AFT-Wisconsin Executive Board
Kim Kohlhaas – Superior Federation of Teachers, Local 202
Executive Vice President
Joe Lowndes-Madison Area Technical College, Local 243
Pam Campbell-Eau Claire Schools Classified Staff Federation, Local 4018
Vickie Boeder-Madison Area Technical College, Local 243
Vice President Graduate Employees
Adrienne Pagac-Teaching Assistants Association, Local 3220
Vice President Higher Education
Aaron Crandall-United Faculty and Academic Staff, Local 223
Vice President PK-12
Cheryl Myers-Menasha Teachers Union, Local 1166
Vice President PSRP
Cynthia Dallmann-Madison Area Technical College, Local 243
Vice President State Employees
Greg Georg-Wisconsin Professional Employees Council, Local 4848
Vice President WTCS
Michael Gradinjan-Moraine Park Technical College, Local 3338
Vice President At Large (6)
Donalea Dinsmore-Wisconsin Science Professionals, Local 3732
Mark Evenson-The Assoc. of University of Wisconsin Professionals, Local 3535
Michael Rosen, MATC-Milwaukee, AFT Local 212
Luz Sosa, MATC-Milwaukee, AFT Local 212
Michelle Ann Theisen, Superior Federation of Teachers, Local 202
Cynthia Wynn, Wisconsin State Public Defenders Assoc., Local 4822