Wisconsin Teachers’ Union Absorbs Cuts

By Sean Cavanagh — August 16, 2011 1 min read
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After fighting Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda at the state capitol and on the campaign trail, Wisconsin’s largest teachers’ union says it’s feeling the effect of his policies in its own offices.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council confirmed that it is laying off 42 workers, out of about 100 staff members, losses it attributes to measures backed by Gov. Walker to cut funding for schools and limit teachers’ collective bargaining powers.

WEAC has been a leading opponent of the Republican governor’s policies, most notably his support for a law that curbed collective bargaining for teachers and most public workers to wages and benefits. The union has also sharply criticized Walker’s budget, which imposed major cuts on K-12 schools. During the fight over collective bargaining, WEAC estimated that it had 98,000 members. In a statement, the union suggested that it has felt the sting of job losses and spending cuts in districts.

“Obviously WEAC is affected by Governor Walker’s union-busting legislation, and our organization is responding on many fronts,” WEAC Executive Director Dan Burkhalter said in a statement. “Layoffs and budget cuts are a reaction to the legislative action that was taken.”

Burkhalter said the group is organizing a campaign to build its membership, and it expects to make more progress when the school year starts.

Last week, Walker won a measure of victory over his critics when Democrats failed to seize enough seats in recall elections to take control of the state Senate from Republicans. Two more recall elections, both with Democratic incumbents, are being held today.

Walker and Republican lawmakers have argued that their policies have helped the state dig out of a major budget shortfall, and that the changes to collective bargaining will allow districts to save money by negotiating more favorable contracts over time.

It’s probably safe to say that many state Republicans aren’t saddened to see one of their key opponents absorb a financial body blow. Whether the WEAC rebounds—or whether this augurs a larger set of struggles for teachers’ unions, given the passage of laws with similar effects in other states—remains to be seen.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.