Wisconsin teachers union leaders are scrambling this week to start a voting process they need to stay relevant as Thanksgiving revelers dine on turkey and hunt for the best Black Friday bargains.
Teachers unions must begin voting by noon Friday to remain certified as the bargaining agent for teachers in their school district. Union leaders learned of the deadline Monday from the state’s agency responsible for administering union laws.
The voting period is 20 days, but union leaders still need to hurry to inform their fellow teachers that the vote is on, said Steve Glandt, executive director of the Coulee Region United Educators.
“And try to do it now,” Glandt said. “Over the Thanksgiving holiday.”
The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission announced the certification deadline for teachers unions days after a state Supreme Court decision reinstated some of the extra requirements lawmakers first put on public unions in 2011 with collective bargaining laws.
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Lawmakers and union representatives have battled in court for more than year after a Dane County judge struck down parts of Act 10 as unconstitutional. Last month, the same judge held WERC officials in contempt for going ahead with certification elections. The Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s contempt ruling last week.
Annual certification was forced on teachers unions in 2011, when Wisconsin lawmakers overhauled collective bargaining. Certification votes give teachers the ability to decide the union’s role. However, they put the union at risk by requiring an unnecessary and burdensome renewal process, said John Havlicek, a Spanish teacher at Central High School and president of the La Crosse School District’s teachers union.
“It would be akin to making you and your wife redo your marriage license every year,” Havlicek said.
Teachers have until Dec. 19 to vote by calling a toll-free number. Non-votes are counted as a vote against certification.
There’s a strong support for the union in La Crosse, where roughly 90 percent of teachers are members, but that’s not the case in other school districts with less organized unions or more pressure from anti-union groups, Havlicek said.
Decertification means unions will lose the power to collectively bargain. With Act 10 removing much of that power already, unions would also lose the ability to negotiate wages, a final vestige of influence, Glandt said. His group represents the La Crosse teachers union and unions in 32 districts across western Wisconsin.
“This whole annual certification thing is a way to make belonging to unions and what the unions can do just more and more difficult,” Glandt said. “That’s the sole purpose.”