By Kevin Binversie
The same state union disrupting the Capitol six months ago while claiming a mantle of democracy and open government now silently chants a different slogan: Secrecy.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Teaching Assistants' Association, or TAA, which launched and led the protests, just held the first union recertification election under the new collective bargaining law.
We know TAA failed. What the actual vote was, however, is anyone’s guess because the union is hiding the number. The only response from union leaders when asked about the result is “it was very close.”
I asked union leaders repeatedly what the vote was and why they won’t release it to the public. So far their only response is silence. Their “open government and transparency” advocacy is limited.
If ever there was a roller coaster year for UW-Madison’s teaching assistants, it was this one.
TAA is the country’s oldest teaching assistants union. Founded in 1966 by graduate students, it was the first to secure a contract with a university in 1970. UW-Madison, like many higher echelon schools, uses teaching assistants as stand-in professors for undergrad lecture classes and helping with things such as the grading of papers and tests. The position is often meant to serve both as a place of employment for grad students while they seek master’s degrees or doctorates and as a job shadow program for future professors.
TAs launched the union protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s collective-bargaining bill in February. A group of TAA members began the effort on Valentine’s Day by hand-delivering valentines to Walker and legislators on the Joint Finance Committee expressing their opposition. By week’s end, the movement had grown to include all the state’s major labor unions with daily marches in and around the state Capitol in Madison.
By the height of the protests and occupation of the Capitol, the TAA had taken on a leadership role inside the building. From a makeshift command center in a third-floor conference room they commandeered, UW’s teaching assistants held learn-ins, potluck suppers in Crock-Pots and other activities.
Fast forward to today and it’s a much different world.
With the collective bargaining law now being enforced, reality of its repercussions is setting in. Beyond limiting collective bargaining for unionized state public employees, the law also requires all public employee unions recognized by the state to hold annual recertification votes. Fifty percent plus one of all members must approve to remain certified. In the past, the state’s public employee unions only needed fifty percent plus one of those voting in the election.
In the coming weeks and months, hundreds of local teacher and other public employee unions will vote on recertifying. Some will vote to recertify and others may not. But considering the public display these unions gave the state this spring, the least they should provide the public is an open record of their elections.
That is, after all, what democracy is supposed to look like.
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.