Organizing Victories Keep Coming for AFT in Wisconsin

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An academic staff unit at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, which includes contingent faculty, voted overwhelmingly for AFT representation on May 18, bringing to six the number of campuses where workers have voted to organize since Gov. Scott Walker took office and unleashed his attack on public employees and their unions.

The election for the unit of 174—the vote was 89 to 5—is the first ever for an academic staff union in Wisconsin. "Don't tell me people in Wisconsin don't want a union" AFT president Randi Weingarten told the union's executive council meeting in Washington, D.C., in announcing the latest organizing win.

Dianna Hunter, a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Inquiry, says that forming a faculty union at UW-Superior is about preserving the integrity of higher education. "I was proud to vote union ‘yes' in this groundbreaking election. At a time when the well-being of working people is under attack at many levels, we have decided to work together to negotiate with management, improve the workplace, and increase security for both people and programs."

If enforced, Gov. Walker's "budget repair" bill would eliminate academic staff and faculty's right to collectively bargain. Although the bill is currently held up in the court system, Republican lawmakers have indicated that they intend to include its anti-collective bargaining provisions into the state budget-a budget that already calls for drastic funding cuts to the University of Wisconsin system.

Jim Miller, coordinator of enrollment research at UW-Superior, says the union's organizing efforts were galvanized by the attacks against public service. "The recent uncertainties and lack of respect for public employees that have been demonstrated by the governor's initiatives have certainly contributed to our resolve to create a formal bargaining group," Miller says. "But these efforts to join together began before the recent turmoil and will continue after the shouting stops and the dust settles."

University of Wisconsin academic staff and faculty were extended the right to collectively bargain in June 2009. Since then, faculty at seven campuses—UW-Eau Claire, UW-Superior, UW-La Crosse, UW-Stout, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Green Bay—have voted in favor of collective bargaining representation. [AFT Wisconsin]

May 18, 2011