By Steve Gunn
We already knew membership numbers have been sagging for many public sector unions in Wisconsin.
But nobody was sure about post-Act 10 membership numbers for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union that led the failed charge to recall Gov. Scott Walker from office.
That’s because union officials pretty much refused to talk about it.
But last week, after voters soundly rejected the Walker recall, WEAC President Mary Bell and Executive Director Dan Burkhalter dropped by the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison to discuss several issues.
During that meeting, Bell and Burkhalter reportedly said the union had about 90,000 members before Act 10 made membership and union dues optional for teachers. While they offered no current membership numbers, they admitted the figure could shrink by 20,000 or 30,000 by the time all collective bargaining agreements expire in school districts across the state.
Act 10 kicks in for districts when collective bargaining agreements expire, giving teachers the green light to leave the union in the dust.
This just confirms what we already suspected. A high percentage of WEAC members were forced members, and their dues were not paid by choice. The only way WEAC could maintain its power base and wealth was to hold thousands of teachers as virtual prisoners and dip into their paychecks before they received them.
That’s not a form of legitimate representation, and it’s not very American at all.
We’re thankful that Act 10 provided liberation for union members who never chose to be members. If WEAC wants to be a major player again, it will have to work to regain the trust of skeptical educators throughout the state.