By Kirsten Adshead and Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — An organization billing itself as an alternative to teachers unions is trying to make headway in Wisconsin, and a familiar face is leading the push.
This time around, Kristi Lacroix is happy to be making the news.
The former Lakeview Technology Academy teacher was fiercely ridiculed when, during the height of the Recall Scott Walker effort, Lacroix appeared in an ad praising the governor and his controversial collective bargaining reforms.
But about that same time, frustrated with union representation, she began researching alternatives.
Lacroix left the classroom in June to take a job as membership director for the Wisconsin branch of the American Association of Educators, which provides liability insurance and professional resources for educators, without collective bargaining and without political lobbying.
“We’re not another union,” she said. “We’re an alternative to the union.”
AAE’s membership in Wisconsin is paltry compared to the teachers unions, even post Act 10.
AAE received a grant this year to increase the state’s membership.
Lacroix said membership is “growing,” but started off at less than 300.
In contrast, while membership in the state’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, has dropped significantly, it’s likely still in the tens of thousands, based on what WEAC President Mary Bell has said in media reports.
WEAC is affiliated with the National Education Association.
Act 10 bans unions from automatically collecting dues.
And as union membership drops, AAE sees Wisconsin ripe with opportunity, Lacroix said.
“Is the NEA maybe upset that we’re out here and offering service to teachers that is definitely at a lower cost — because, again, we’re not spending money on partisan politics, does that make them upset? Maybe it does,” she said.
The NEA did not respond to a request for an interview from Wisconsin Reporter.
But it’s clear there’s no love lost between the two organizations.
The website of NEA’s Iowa affiliate says, “The goal of AAE is to weaken the membership strength of NEA and its state and local affiliates, thus reducing the Association’s political power and making it easier to privatize public education.”
The website adds, “We (the teachers union members) have a strong, collective voice and the clout to make positive changes and improvements in public education. Additionally, NEA member benefits programs are designed to save members money and provide superior service on many products. AAE and its affiliates have no collective voice and no power.”
Teachers aren’t the only public employees looking for new options in post Act 10 Wisconsin.
Two weeks ago, state corrections officers voted to disband from the Wisconsin State Employees Union for the greener pastures of the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement.
The WACLE now represents close to 5,900 state employees. WACLE cut dues in half from $36 a month under WSEU to about $18 a month.
WACLE interim president Brian Cunningham previously chastised WSEU-AFSME for spending too much money filling lawmaker’s campaign coffers and not enough representing its members. “In the post-Act 10 world, AFSCME has been nowhere to be seen,” Cunningham said.
“They’ve lost every single thing they’ve thrown their hat in against Scott Walker,” Cunningham said in a YouTube response to an AFSCME campaign flier asking its members not to switch unions. “We paid them to be prepared and they weren’t prepared. Where’s their political clout? They don’t have any.”
After the election, Cunningham told Wisconsin Reporter the WACLE would better represent corrections officers
“They don’t want to be challenged, they don’t want to have the rest of their units certify,” Cunningham said. “They want to continue to collect money without having to do anything. Certification is a lot of work.”
Where corrections officers voted to form a new union, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association went to court and prevailed for members in two counties, resulting in the reinstatement of collective bargaining for jailers in Marquette and Douglas counties.
In 2012, Marquette County Circuit Court Judge Richard Wright ruled the county’s jailers and dispatchers are public safety employees, and therefore Act 10 collective bargaining reforms don’t apply to those employees.
“From a broad perspective, this is particularly good news for our protective status members who are confronting employers that are trying to apply to them the limited bargaining laws for non-public safety employees,” WPPA president Jim Palmer wrote in a newsletter to members.
The WPPA used the Marquette County decision, in part, to challenge the WERC’s conclusion that subjected Douglas County jailers to the reforms in Act 10.
A Dane County circuit court judge ruled otherwise, a decision that was upheld last week in a state appeals court.
For a group of employees to have “protective occupation participant” status, the county has to certify to the state that more than half of employee’s job duties are primarily law enforcement related.
Palmer said the ruling will only apply to jailers in a handful of counties.