The Teaching Assistants’ Association at the University of Wisconsin at Madison dates to 1966. In 1970, following a four-week strike, the graduate students at Madison became the first T.A. union to win a contract. Over the years, the union — affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers — has been a leader in the drive to promote collective bargaining for graduate student workers.
Last week, after hours of debate, the union’s members voted not to seek state certification to continue to act as a collective bargaining agent. Union leaders said that the vote was a close one (they declined to reveal the totals), and taken with very mixed feelings by both those seeking to continue state certification and those arguing against. Those who carried the day argued that the new state law designed to limit the power of public employee unions made it impossible to operate effectively, and that the organization will be able to do more for T.A.s by not seeking to be certified as an official union.
Under the new state law, pushed by Governor Scott Walker, public employee unions like the one that represents Wisconsin T.A.s must be “certified” with a vote of members each year. Typically, once unions win a vote to represent a bargaining unit, they do not need to return for elections year after year — if ever. Further, under the new law, the unions can negotiate only for limited wage increases; they can’t negotiate over benefits, working conditions or other issues.
As I predicted back when this battle came to my attention: when democracy was finally introduced to these funding machines for the very WI democrats that union bosses would end up “bargaining with” for more money and power, these unions would all wither like vampires exposed to sunlight. Walker’s new law was not opposed by the left and the union bosses because it was going to rob employees of their income, benefits, or barganing power: it was opposed by the left and the bosses, and opposed in a dragged out, no holds barred, scorched earth campaign that failed anyway, because without forced union dues and any real reason for the union bosses to serve the union membership – to earn their confidence and vote by wisely spending their dues, so to speak – which the previous system basically insulated union bosses from, they simply could not survive as an entity or keep doing what they have been doing to the WI tax payers.
Walker’s new bill made dues a voluntary thing for members, but more importantly, it required annual recertification for organized public labor unions, and it is obvious that these unions can not exist when their membership has both the freedom to vote to recertify or to withould dues if they don’t like what is being done with their money, and the response of the union bosses backed that assertion/opinion up with this admission:
Union leaders said that they couldn’t function well if they had to effectively be in a perpetual organizing drive for the annual union votes, and also if they had to pay annual fees to be certified. “Our membership was keenly aware of the sort of resources and energy it would take in order to hold on,” said Adrienne Pagac, co-president of the union and a doctoral student in sociology at Madison. She said that the leaders of the union did not make any recommendation to the members on how to vote, and that the AFT did not seek to influence the vote, opting to let the rank and file make the call.
Seeking certification year after year, she said, “would have meant diverting resources and neglecting all of the other things we do for members – representing them at the work site, being advocates for them, engaging our community.” Pagac added that “being a union member is not just about sitting across the table from management and hammering out a contract. It’s about democracy in the workplace.”
WTF is she talking about? Perpetual organizing drive? That’s al union bosses did anyway: campaign for democrats and live high off the hog, in the most undemocratic system possible to their membership. What really went down is that they did the math, figured out they wouldn’t be able to get anything like the money they where siphoning off their membership now that dues were voluntary, and more importantly, realized they would have to work at keeping members happy to get recertification every year, and figured it was not worth the effort. Especially with their perks all but gone. So now they are decertifying that union. Win-win for the T.A.s and the tax payers of Wisconsin, in my opinion. Huge loss for the democrat machine and the union bosses that lived large & in charge off their membership. Next please.