Steve Urso, Interim Executive Director-By now, many of you may have read about the 2014-15 recertification election results for public employees as of November 25, 2014. Three-hundred-and-five education units, made up of teachers, ESP’s, noon hour supervisors, substitute teachers and carpenters and painters, sought recertification – which requires 51% of eligible employees to vote to retain their union. Recertification was the choice of 97% of the affected units.
Since the 25th, numerous individuals in units across the state have indicated their belief as to reason why, by significant majorities, recertification of their union occurred. We have heard that one major reason was that members want to know that they have someone to represent them and speak on their behalf, individually and collectively. Often, when placed in the position of having to be interviewed by administration, an individual member is nervous, tense and worried. It is difficult for them to remain detached and unemotional, and it is difficult for them to be interviewed alone. With an experienced and trained representative accompanying them, the meeting is more endurable. Also, with as many changes as we have seen in school operations over the last year, members want to have their voices heard, and the collective voice is louder and stronger than a lone voice when speaking to their issues before administration and the school board. By retaining their union, they retain that collective voice when needed, and individual representation when necessary.
Another reason communicated to us was that base wage bargaining requires someone with knowledge and expertise to work with the employer and reach a satisfactory outcome. It is now becoming more important for the dollars involved to be equitably and fairly distributed. It is not uncommon for unions to be approached with alternative pay structures, but how many employers will do so, or how they propose to do so with Act 10 in place, is unknown. We are being told that members are more comfortable with an experienced bargaining representative involved.
Another big reason reported to us has to do with the desire of professionals to be treated with dignity and respect. In order for that to happen, many feel they need to stay together and speak as one, united voice. The State Legislature and our Governor have made it clear that they do not want to have strong unions who speak with their own voice in existence throughout Wisconsin. Apparently, they do not understand that a legislative body cannot restrict an individual’s right to associate, formally or informally, and engage in free speech with like-minded individuals. If what they really want is to prevent people from meeting and discussing issues of mutual concern, they may want to consider amending the Constitution – although, that might prove to be more difficult to do than they think. They may want to consider that many “associations” or “groups” espouse values consistent with their own political positions and do regularly meet and strategize. How, exactly, they would distinguish between those they like and those they don’t like, within a legal context, is unclear.
My takeaway from the recertification votes is that it reaffirms how much people desire to continue to associate and identify with those they consider like-minded, who share similar experiences, values and goals. Public employees understand that they need to stay united and decide collectively on what course to follow. They also know that there are hundreds of groups out there, but it is the unions who have for years operated on the principle that workers succeed by raising each other up, not by pushing one another down. To me, the recertification elections mean the ideals of shared beliefs and goals, economic and social justice, and basic fairness, still are of fundamental importance to public employees and they will not allow temporary obstacles to overcome the free exercise of their rights, nor their belief in one another and what they stand for.