If You Can’t Beat Him, Join Together

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.”

A large percentage of union members seem to be in support of the merger. As reported in the Chippewa Herald, at their recent special assembly, many WEAC constituents agreed:

There are benefits to merging both Wisconsin chapters of the national unions, but the most important reason is to strengthen and unify the voices of public education advocates.

But even if the unions decided to join up, the merger won’t officially take effect until 2014. Another year of Walker’s reforms will go by, likely followed by continued erosion to union membership. Is it too late to preserve the power Big Labor enjoyed in Wisconsin during the pre-Walker regime? “Not if we can help it,” is the answer from the teachers unions. From the AFT-Wisconsin’s website:

[Act 10] is a blatant attempt to strangle our union by cutting off resources. Members are choosing to pay dues… and continue their union membership so that we can defeat Walker’s extremist agenda and take back our Wisconsin… failure of Walker’s forces to recall labor advocate State Sen. David Hansen [has] set the stage for us to take back the state senate in August and start fixing the damage Scott Walker has done.

Wisconsin union leaders hope that by joining forces, they can preserve some of their power. It may also be an attempt to justify their own salaries to their ever dwindling membership.