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Teachers unions face challenge
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The votes have been counted and there are far fewer education unions certified in the state of Wisconsin—and only two in Crawford County.

Union officials are citing changes to state law and election hurdles as the reason behind the decision of approximately 40 percent of union locals to not even seek recertification. Additionally, 51 other union locals, including support staff union locals as well as teacher  union locals, failed to achieve recertification in elections.

Among those that chose not to seek recertification was the Seneca Education Association.

“We were advised by our union that with the costs and roadblocks to recertification, that it was nearly impossible to recertify for now,” said Ann Wallin, the SEA president.

Changes in the unions bargaining powers due to the passage of Act 10, which stripped public sector employees of collective bargaining rights for anything other than wage increases based on inflation, played a part in the decision to recertify, according to Wallin.

“We don’t really know what the impact of recertification would be, no-one does yet,” Wallin said. “We may have to revisit the decision next year.”

The North Crawford Education Association will also be revisiting the question of recertification next year. They are among the 17-percent of union locals seeking recertification that lost their election.

Unlike the usual standard for winning an election that requires receiving more than half of the votes cast, the recertification election standard set by the state required union locals receive more than half of the votes of those eligible to vote.

Voting was conducted by telephone between November 29 and December 19.

With 43 eligible voters, North Crawford’s teachers union needed 22 votes to recertify. Twenty-three votes were called in – 21 Yea and two Nay – leaving the union one vote short of winning the recertification.

NCEA Co-President Lori Fox-Gillespie stressed that this did not mean the school’s union no longer exists, it is simply no longer certified by the state.

“The election was for recertification only,” Fox-Gillespie explained. “Eligible voters are not required to join the union. That is a personal choice. And we don’t discuss who voted in which way. That’s very private and we really work to respect that. We’re not even talking about it.”

When news of the lost recertification came out, several teachers told Fox-Gillespie that they had simply forgotten to vote due to the busyness of the season.

Most people don’t really understand the role of collective bargaining, Fox-Gillespie said.

“This was a tool that got the administration and teachers to sit down and work together,” she said. “We used it for years. We used it to address insurance, to address the number of hours worked, programing, etc.”

The school’s administration and teachers are still working together and Fox-Gillespie stressed the respect that everyone working at the school has for each other and their mutual goal of providing the best possible education for the students.

“We really love our jobs, we love teaching,” Fox-Gillespie said. “Things are still normal here, teachers are still teaching. We are still working together to provide the best program we can. We just don’t have much bargaining power at this point and we don’t know what losing recertification will mean for us.

“With the atmosphere in the state and comments shared in the community, there is not a lot of respect and support for unions right now,” Fox-Gillespie said. “It may take years of work to recover from this (Act 10).”

Statewide, teacher unions recertified at the highest rate with only eight-percent, or 20 unions, losing recertification elections. For the unions representing support staff such as classroom aides, bus drivers, and cafeteria cooks, the fall out was greater. Forty-nine unions representing 31 percent of the unions seeking recertification lost in those elections.

With 56,112 school staff eligible to vote, 39,900 cast their ballots by phone – 39,135 voting for recertification and 765 voting against.

Obstacles to voting statewide included delayed notices of election, trouble getting through on the phone line to vote, ID code duplication making it difficult for some voters to key in, and recorded messages about locations creating confusion for voters as to whether they were voting in the correct election.

In other Ridge and Valley Conference re-certification elections:

• DeSoto teachers  - recertified  - 48 eligible voters - 36 for and one against;

• Kickapoo teachers - recertified  - 44 eligible voters - 36 for and none against;

• Kickapoo bus drivers – lost recertification – 8 eligible voters – no votes cast;

• La Farge teachers – lost recertification – 30 eligible voters – 12 for and none against;

• Not seeking recertification – DeSoto support staff, Ithaca teachers and support staff, La Farge support staff, Wauzeka-Steuben teachers and support staff, and Weston teachers and support staff.

Prairie du Chien teachers and support staff unions also did not hold recertification elections.