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Tracie Happel

Tracie Happel is a Wisconsin public school teacher and AAE member.

Back-to-school season is in full swing in Wisconsin. As teachers prepare to start anew this school year, I hope they will take some time to explore their options and consider an incredible professional educator movement that I am thrilled to be part of in the state.

Since the labor battle erupted in Wisconsin in 2010, our state has been considered ground zero for the sweeping education and labor reform legislation debated almost nationwide. With revelations from political spending watchdog groups and the state’s NEA affiliate themselves, the Wisconsin Education Association Council is becoming the new standard for a labor union going from onetime lobbying powerhouse, to laying off staff under teacher choice.

Before the epic debacle, WEAC spent $2.5 million on lobbying between 2009 and 2010 alone. That’s more than any other group in the state. To put these numbers in perspective, a large portion of these funds are directly derived from the paychecks of teachers, by way of the taxpayers of Wisconsin, purely for the purpose of union politicking, not to stock classrooms or help students. To top it all off, many of their pet issues had absolutely nothing to do with education.

Despite their tireless work and record lobbying for their own interests and blocking education and labor reforms, teacher choice is now the law of the land in Wisconsin; allowing educators across the state the right to choose whether they want to belong to WEAC. As a result, thousands of teachers have chosen to exercise that right, leaving WEAC perhaps millions of dollars short in revenue from forced dues.

I am proud to say I’m one of those teachers, and I am thrilled to finally make a choice in Wisconsin. Once forced to pay astronomical union dues as a conditional of employment, I have now exercised my right to choose an association that is held accountable to my needs, the Association of American Educators.

This association is the largest, national, non-union association for teachers with members in all 50 states. It provides me educator liability insurance, legal counsel and professional development opportunities, all at a fraction of the cost I once paid to WEAC.

What’s more is that since AAE is nonpartisan, I no longer have to bankroll partisan politics and controversial social issues perpetuated by WEAC and the NEA. My money will no longer go to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign or advocate for socialized

medicine or other agendas unrelated to education. I can rest assured that my dues go directly to professional benefits that I need to be supported in the classroom.

After all, I want to be treated as the academic professional I am. Teachers are not blue-collar laborers; they are academic professionals like lawyers, scientists and engineers. Industrial-style union representation does not advance the respect that educators deserve in Wisconsin or nationwide. AAE is at the forefront of fostering a renewed professional culture for educators nationwide.

We often hear about the necessary reforms needed in Wisconsin classrooms, but what we do not hear is that we need to overhaul the way our teacher workforce is represented and organized. I believe AAE is the answer as teachers from across the state are joining daily.

The bottom line is under teacher choice and without a pipeline of forced dues cash, WEAC is unsustainable. With AAE, they are held accountable to their members and teachers can voluntarily get the professional benefits they need without paying for bloated staffs and partisan politics.

I urge my fellow teachers to examine the difference for yourself. Don’t teach this year unprotected, and don’t pay more for a union you don’t support.

Tracie Happel is a Wisconsin public school teacher and AAE member.

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(37) comments


Well, Celtic, you have certainly been across the boards and around the track on this one. And you've done a good job of exposition for your side. But I also think you're being purposely obtuse regarding the difference between public and private unions.

The point is not you and your local management negotiators, the point is that unions go to politicians with the promise (or threat) of votes, which of course is selling influence, and the politicians are more than willing to purchase that influence because of their desire to stay in office.

It is a corrupt system, and so simple to understand, the foxes are in charge of the henhouse.

There is a spigot of money flowing from the taxpayer toward the government, and the unions -- all the unions -- want to get their glass in there to get some.

Politicians and unions are in partnership. That is so easy to see, and I'm not being partisan when I say that -- it is just easy to see.


"CelticMan - 19 hours ago "well, the taxpayers can elect school board members who drive a tougher bargain, and lower my wages"

OR teachers like you can vote for school board members who don't drive a tougher bargain and give into the teachers. Teachers get to help elect the very people who "negotitate" with them. Must be nice. Again, there is NO place for GOV. unions. And we haven't even talked about the taxpayers money that goes to your union dues that helps elect public officials of the unions choosing. Off with their heads!


It is interesting to read about WEAC negotiating wages. Face it, "public unions" should be correctly called what they are: "Government worker unions." Who do "government workers" negotiate with? Certainly not the taxpayers, they people that are paying their salaries. Why do you think so much of the "government worker dues" goes toward electing liberal puppets in government? It is for the open an checkbook for "government workers" salaries and benefits. In the real world, non-government unions negotiate for salaries and benefits with the company for which they work. If the company cannot afford union demands, they have the option to move the company another state. That is not the case with "government worker unions." School, prisons, bus routes and all sorts of other government agencies do not have the option to move elsewhere so they are forced to continually give in to "government union demands." Where is the so called negotiation??? "Govenment unions have made most state budgets unsustainable...and that is why many cities and states are now bankrupt. Thanks "Government Unions" for wrecking our once great country.


Great letter, Tracie, thanks for having the courage to face the lib attacks this will generate. It is great to see teachers who support our children's education as a first priority. As the Recall debacle demonstrated the majority of Wisconsinites support your position. The children in your classroom are fortunate to have an educator with your level of dedication to your profession.

Midnight Toker

CelticMan, I dont think thats true. You are a professional educator and I'm just a big ol' dumb country boy.

Its just that when my position is the correct 1, my arguements are the ones that end up making more sense, hence you really cant provide an answer that continues to support your position.

Thank you anyway for the discussion.


Talulah3, by your letter you expose your own fear of questionable competence and its possible impact on you. I suppose you should just keep paying your union dues and be glad you built up your seniority under the old regime.

By the way, your liberal tripe that conservatives want to lay waste to teachers is a tired, hackneyed and false canard. We all want good teachers. I am one conservative that would like to see good teachers paid more, not less. So what are you afraid of?


I am glad to hear that you support good teachers. Here is the problem for us: The school district budget is very tightly controlled. So, let's say that the district, over a period of years, assembles this incredible lineup of teachers, All-Stars in the sports world, MVPs every one. Are you going to support paying MVP salaries? I doubt it. Second, how are you going to distinguish the great from the good from the bad? If you can find an accurate way, I would be all for it.


Redwall, I am not in a union or a classroom, so I guess I am not afraid of anything. I wanted Mrs. Happel to be more forthcoming about the her professional group and its agenda.

Midnight Toker

CelticMan - 4 hours ago"Well, I didn't know what you are even talking about, so I looked in the archives. I didn't reply to what you wrote on the Wolf and Leuders pieces because you commented after I had gone to bed. Now, it is 3 days later and you seem to want me to comment. If you have something to say about this letter, go ahead"

When I responded, it was within 24 hours of the articles themselves being published, and hours within your comments.

If you have no answer, thats fine.

Your silence speaks volumes, and tells me what I need to know. Thanks.


You are too smart for me!


Outstanding letter, Ms. Happel.

Congratulations and welcome back to teaching as one of the great professions, as it was meant to be.


Thank you.


Thank you, Redwall.

Midnight Toker


Why is it that you take the time to make the points you do, numbering 1 thru 5, but when someone answers your points(point by point),you refuse to admit your error. I am referring to the Kimberly Wolf letter and more recently the Bill Lueders editorial.

If someone answers your points here, is it going to be the same thing?


Well, I didn't know what you are even talking about, so I looked in the archives. I didn't reply to what you wrote on the Wolf and Leuders pieces because you commented after I had gone to bed. Now, it is 3 days later and you seem to want me to comment. If you have something to say about this letter, go ahead.


Yes, she's no doubt a Walker/Republican shill. Not very hard to spot! She deserves every bit of grief she gets from this BS.


Oh no, I support Walker/am a Republican!!??? Well, we gotta keep those kinda people outta the classroom and outta our lives. Heaven help us! Yes, one does deserve grief for their beliefs, don't they? That makes a lot of sense. Typical lib. *sigh*


PS - It took a lot of intestinal fortitude for this teacher to write this article. I would be willing to bet she will still receive harassment from her "professional" ex-union peers like CM...


I am not a "professional", however I am a professional. We don't harass anyone, but thanks for making the accusation a priori.

Here is what she will get:

1. The same salary/benefits that I get, although she is choosing not to be a member of the union, just to benefit from union negotiating.

2. Safe and healthy working conditions, a result of union negotiating.

3. A reasonable limit to her work load, a result of union negotiating.

4. Union representation in case of discipline/grievance, even though she is contributing nothing to the cost of such representation

Yeah, she's a real team player. This letter did not take intestinal fortitude. She is complaining about things that are not true, she is misleading the public. It takes courage to stand up to people like her.


CelticMan, I would prefer to make my own salary based on my own negotiations, professionalism and education. I don't need someone else speaking for me. I also have the protection of the union for working conditions or reasonable work limit as I can also handle whatever they give me, as well as those are covered by federal laws. I have representation in the case of discipline and/or grievance through AAE, to which I contribute. Thank you for helping me clear this up for the public.


Good luck!


Sorry, that was supposed to say, "I have protection for working conditions and reasonable work limits as I can handle whatever they give me and because of federal laws."


And, let's really look into your veiled accusation.

1. If I am a former teacher, such as Mr. Rudolph, I am barred from voting on any policy changes that may affect me financially. I don't know, but I assume the same would go if it were my spouse that were affected financially, since that would still affect me.

2. Let's assume that there is still a financial incentive that makes the board "negotiate" as you say, instead of negotiate in the public's best interest. So, some drastic change that may make a, say $4000 difference (the amount of my pay cut) would make it impossible for the board member to be impartial. The motives of the board member would be impugned. OK, then what about the woman that gave $500,000 to Walker's campaign? Do you then assume that he will be impartial regarding any legislation that may affect her? You would have to, according to your reasoning, assume that he will favor her, since she gave him 100 times the amount that I lost, a 100 times as great incentive.


CM - And are school board members ever related to union ( I should say ex-union) teacher? You bet they are. Again, Governor Walker gave the tools, but he didn't figure on the rampant nepotism that has infected these local school boards.


Yes, it is the conspiracy theory. Not that school board members run (and win the seat) because they care about education, it is because they are trying to line the pockets of their spouses! You have uncovered the dark secret...

Tools? Yeah, right. Walker handed me a $4K pay cut. He basically made me pay for his budget.

Nepotism? Not the word you are looking for, sir/madam. How many school board members are immediate family members of WEA employees/union members? I can think of 2, out of 9 board members, I think.

Seriously Now

I love how these pseudo tea party types write letters about spending and "socialism" and totally ignore our "defense (war)" budget that is more than the next 20 countries' war budgets COMBINED. The loosely grouped disorganized bunch of right wingers that claims to be a "party" have no validity regarding how money is spent until they address this giant issue.


Why do some people always do this? "You're outraged about that ??!!?? Well, what about this ???!!"

Sure, change the subject. Don't look there, look over here!

Didn't your mother teach you that one bad behavior does not justify another? If not, you had a bad mother.


Regardless, Public sector unions should NOT be allowed. "Negotiating" against the taxpayers who are NOT even represented in the negotiations is appalling. Have your private unions just keep them out of the public.


FUBAR -- In fact, not fiction, the taxpayers are represented. The union negotiates with the school board. The school board representatives attend the meetings along with administration and negotiate with the unions. There is really no difference between private sector and public sector unions. That is a red herring, meant to distract from the real discussion. Also, using quotation marks, as in "negotiating" is disingenuous.


"There is no difference between private sector and public sector unions."

Baloney, Mister Celtic -- the idea of unions for public employees is an old topic with a long history, starting with FDR (who didn't think they were necessary).

You are an educated man -- you know you are not starting on this question with an open and inquiring mind, instead you have your mind made up, and are using any argument you can find to prove your point.

Which is, of course, what so many do. But you, with your education, should know better. I do. It's that "critical thinking" thing that we are supposed to learn in higher education.


Yes, I am educated, thanks for noticing. I also have a certain viewpoint, no doubt. Tell me why public and private unions are different. Don't just say they are, say how they differ. Here is what I have read:

1. Public unions gouge the taxpayers. Well, the taxpayers can elect school board members who drive a tougher bargain, and lower my wages. OK, if you can get enough people to agree with you, do it! However, most board members seem to recognize that there has to be some give and take. If the board wants to attract and retain good teachers, the wages have to be enough to do so.

2. Unions and admin are on the same side in public unions. Well, not really. I have yet to see an administrator propose something that improves my wages or working conditions.

3. Teachers unions protect lazy, terrible teachers. Well, the unions protect all of us. They protect us from witch hunters who have an ax to grind, or from parents who can't believe that their child is anything less than perfect all the time, at everything.

So, please, how are public and private sector unions different?


The difference, CelticMan, is this: In the private sector, union and management are antagonists. In the public sector, they are partners.

And what they are partners in, is spending taxpayers money.

That taxpayer money is different than private sector money, as in the private sector the person who earns the money can make decisions about where it goes. In public, that choice does not exist.


Actually, we are partners in educating children. If you think that management is interested in improving our wages/benefits, you have never sat in on a bargaining meeting. I have been in those meetings for years. Management is always looking to decrease our benefits/pay, always.

Why can I not decide where my money goes, as you say in your last paragraph? Why not? Did I not earn it, in trade for educating a bunch of children? Why does that choice not exist?


Wow, I'll try to clear up a few things:

1. Union dues are about 1.5 - 2.0 % of a teacher's salary. That is split between the local, the state, and the national. The national is about 20% of that, or about .4% of salary.

2. Political action accounts for about 5% of the dues, so about .1% of the dues, maybe $30-40 tops. And, members can get it back just by asking.

3. No one is forced to be a member of WEAC or their local, etc. This is very misleading by people like Ms. Happel. WI was, and should be again in the future, what is called a "Fair share" state. An employee is NEVER forced to join a union as a condition of employment. Either Ms. Happel is sadly uninformed or lying. However, since the biggest chunk of union dues goes to paying for things like negotiating (meetings, literature, office space, etc.) and representation (to help with negotiating, discipline issues, etc.), all employees union or not must pay their "Fair share". She is happy that WI is now a "Right to freeload" state. She can avoid paying dues, etc., and still benefit from representation, negotiating, etc. When some parent gets upset, and demands discipline against Ms. Happel, she will still have union representation if she wants it, even though she is not paying for it, and is maligning it now very publicly. Ms. Happel, you are a hypocrite.

4. Socialized medicine -- she tips her hand here. She is a right wing shill. The ACA is not socialized medicine, which in itself is not even a defined, industry term (kind of like "Islamo-fascism" was tried by the Bush admin and made no sense). Yeah, all the poor kids being able to get health care, that would suck, wouldn't it?

5. She tries to say, in the third paragraph, that taxpayers are paying for WEAC lobbying. No, they are not. Taxpayers are paying for me to educate their children. What I do with my salary after that is not relevant. Or, do taxpayers also pay for illicit drugs, when an employee of some store buys drugs with his/her paycheck, after said taxpayer shops at that store? This sounds stupid, because it is.

6. "...bloated staff" -- WEAC has an incredibly efficient staff. It is kind of like the WEA insurance complaint, that WEA insurance is driving up costs. Actually, they pay out about 93% of their premiums in payments to healthcare providers. Have you heard about the companies that are being forced to refund money because they didn't even pay out 80%?

Thank god this woman is not in my building. She may be great in the classroom, but she is clueless about her profession.


Sorry, I was a bit sleepy. #2 should read ".1 % of salary"


#3 - You are wrong...teachers were "forced" to be part of the union. If we wanted a job, we had to be part of it. Yes, we could write a letter to WEAC asking for our fair share back, send it certified, deal with it being "lost," having WEAC contact us to continually ask about leaving, have to resend it (certified, again) because it was "lost," and have only a small window of opportunity in which to do all this. Coupled with family and work demands, we really are forced. In reality, there is no time to get our "fair share" back (which is about $20, out of close to $1000).


#2 - Political action is NOT only about 5%.

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