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.