Wisconsin's Professors Unionize in Defiance of Walker's
By Mark Niquette
Mar 31, 2011 3:22 PM ET
Lisa Theo cast her vote yesterday to join a union that
may not be able to negotiate a contract for her and
said, "That felt good."
Theo, 51, a geography instructor, and her University of
Wisconsin-Stevens Point colleagues voted in a two-day
election to be represented by AFT-Wisconsin after the
passage of a law championed by Republican Governor Scott
Walker that would eliminate collective bargaining for
It was the fourth state campus to vote in favor of
representation since Walker introduced the bill Feb. 11,
saying it is necessary to mend the recession-battered
budget. The measure, which has been challenged in court,
touched off weeks of protests. Professors say
Republicans are using the budget crisis to attack
education with the union bill, by proposing funding cuts
and by seeking e-mails sent by a UW-Madison professor
who wrote a blog posting and a New York Times opinion
piece opposing Walker.
"We're going to stand up for our rights, and we're going
to keep fighting until we get them," Theo said in an
The Stevens Point faculty voted 283-15 for the union,
said Jennifer Collins, an assistant professor of
political science and member of the committee advocating
"We're thrilled," she said in a telephone interview
today. "It's a strong message to Governor Walker
rejecting what he's doing." Picking Up Speed
The previous decisions in favor of union representation
were Feb. 24 at UW-La Crosse, March 9 at UW-Stout and
March 24 at UW-River Falls, AFT-Wisconsin said in press
releases. The winning margins ranged from 86 percent to
90 percent, according to the union, which is affiliated
with the American Federation of Teachers. The federation
has 17,000 members statewide.
Faculty at UW campuses in Eau Claire and Superior also
voted to join AFT-Wisconsin last year after the
Legislature extended collective bargaining to faculty
and academic staff in June 2009, the union said.
The new law, which would limit collective bargaining for
most government workers, would end it completely for
In Stevens Point, 110 miles (177 kilometers) north of
state capital Madison, work toward unionization began
almost a year ago. It gained momentum after Walker
signed the law this month, said Eric Yonke, 48, a
history professor and organizing committee member.
The law limits most public employees to bargaining for
wages alone; raises can't exceed inflation unless voters
agree. The measure requires increased contributions for
health-care coverage and pensions.
In Stevens Point, some faculty members saw their votes
as symbolic support for collective bargaining, Yonke, a
professor for 20 years, said in an interview. Others
wanted the union in place if the law is overturned, he
State Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi in Madison today
affirmed that the law isn't in effect as a suit over
whether it was lawfully created proceeds. Dane County
District Attorney Ismael Ozanne sued to invalidate the
measure, arguing that lawmakers who approved it violated
the state open-meetings law.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Democrats are seeking to recall
eight Republican senators. Speaking as One
The union would give the faculty "a unified voice" on
issues including tenure, Todd Huspeni, an assistant
professor of zoology, said in an interview.
Walker's office issued a statement in response to the
union vote saying the governor "is focused on balancing
Wisconsin's multibillion budget deficit and ensuring our
state has a business climate that allows the private
sector to create 250,000 new jobs by 2015."
Collins, the politics professor, said Walker "has been a
tremendous union organizer."
"People feel like this is one way we can stand up and
express our opposition to the direction the governor is
taking in the state," she said in an interview.
That opposition extends to a public-records request by
the Wisconsin Republican Party for e-mails sent by
William Cronon, a history professor at UW-Madison, she
said. The party wants messages that mention Walker and a
variety of other Republican politicians, as well as
state employee unions. 'Chilling Effect'
Cronon has been critical of Walker and Republicans on
his blog and in a March 21 opinion article in the New
York Times, saying Walker "has provoked a level of
divisiveness and bitter partisan hostility the likes of
which have not been seen in this state since at least
the Vietnam War."
Cronon didn't respond to two telephone messages and an
e- mail seeking comment.
William P. Jones, an associate professor at UW-Madison
who studies labor history and government unions, said
the request "was pretty clearly a response to things
that Bill had written" in an effort to intimidate him.
"It can have a chilling effect on other faculty
members," Jones said in a telephone interview.
The Wisconsin Republican Party doesn't need to explain
its request, its executive director, Mark Jefferson,
said in a statement.
"Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a
right to know if public officials are conducting
themselves in an ethical manner," Jefferson said.
AFT-Wisconsin will continue its work on more campuses,
said Bryan Kennedy, the state union's president.
"I don't see the organizing stopping," Kennedy said in a
March 29 interview in his Madison office. The state is
"going to have pry collective-bargaining rights from our
cold, dead hands."
To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Niquette in
Stevens Point at [log in to unmask]
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark
Tannenbaum at [log in to unmask]
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