Wisconsin’s largest teachers unions may be joining forces. The WEAC, an affiliate of the National Education Association, and the AFT-Wisconsin, affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, are discussing a merger.
Why? Both unions report about a 30-percent decline in membership since passage of the state’s new collective bargaining law, Act 10. The law, spearheaded by Governor Scott Walker, prohibits bargaining over employee working conditions or benefits, and also stipulates that union dues are no longer mandatory. Prior to the enactment of Act 10, WEAC members paid between $600 and $1,000 in state and national dues.
It is clear that Walker’s effective reforms have driven the unions into each other’s arms for solace. Kenosha teacher Michael Orth admits as much, “It’s about building local union power.” Since the collective bargaining overhaul, the unions have been forced to target their influence at the local level — campaigning for change through the school board rather than their historic practices of hefty campaign contributions and lobbying at the state level. “Our business model has been busted up,” WEAC Executive Director Dan Burkhalter lamented. “We can’t play on the field we’ve been playing.”