Wisconsin teachers' union announces staff layoffs

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's powerful statewide teachers union said 40 percent of its staff members were laid off Monday as a result of the law pushed by Gov. Scott Walker and passed by the Legislature curbing collective bargaining rights.

Wisconsin Education Association Council executive director Dan Burkhalter said the laying off of 42 workers resulted from what he called Walker's "union-busting" bill. Opponents had argued one of the law's goals was weakening the power of unions like WEAC, which is typically one of the biggest spenders in campaigns on behalf of Democrats.

The law takes away the right of teachers and other public workers to collectively bargain over anything except salary increases no greater than the rate of inflation. It also disallows the automatic withdrawal of union dues from workers' pay checks and requires unions to vote annually on staying organized, making it tougher for public sector unions to stay viable.

About two-thirds of the state's 427 school districts reached collective bargaining agreements before the law took effect, leaving about 150 subject to the law, according to estimates by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

WEAC has been working to get those teachers to become members, Burkhalter said. He refused to say how many had actually been signed up, saying those were "internal figures."

The cuts announced Monday were necessary due to drops in school district employees caused by lay-offs and retirements, not any projections about where union membership will stand later in the year, Burkhalter said.

The work to sign up previously covered teachers into the union is ongoing, Burkhalter said, and he expects to see a spike in membership once school resumes in the fall.

"Despite budget cuts and layoffs, our goal remains the same: to be a strong and viable organization that represents the voices of Wisconsin's public school employees," he said in a statement.

Before the law was passed, WEAC had about 98,000 members and was one of the most powerful unions in the state. Lobbying reports released last week showed that in 2009 and 2010, at a time when Democrats were in control of the Legislature and the governor's office, WEAC spent $2.5 million twisting the arms of lawmakers, more than any other group.

It has reported spending $500,000 in support of Democratic candidates in this summer's recall elections.

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