The Teachers Assistants' Association at University of Wisconsin at Madison has voted to disband.
Under the new state law, pushed by Governor Scott Walker, public employee unions like the one that represents Wisconsin T.A.s must be "certified" with a vote of members each year. Typically, once unions win a vote to represent a bargaining unit, they do not need to return for elections year after year -- if ever. Further, under the new law, the unions can negotiate only for limited wage increases; they can't negotiate over benefits, working conditions or other issues.
Union leaders said that they couldn't function well if they had to effectively be in a perpetual organizing drive for the annual union votes, and also if they had to pay annual fees to be certified. "Our membership was keenly aware of the sort of resources and energy it would take in order to hold on," said Adrienne Pagac, co-president of the union and a doctoral student in sociology at Madison.
Why shouldn't unions periodically require a vote from their members to continue representation?
Seeking certification year after year, she said, "would have meant diverting resources and neglecting all of the other things we do for members - representing them at the work site, being advocates for them, engaging our community." Pagac added that "being a union member is not just about sitting across the table from management and hammering out a contract. It's about democracy in the workplace."
Democracy in the workplace... that never needs to be voted on again?
The union faces challenges as it adjusts to the limits imposed by the state law. Under the old contract, union dues were automatically deducted from the paychecks of the 2,700-2,800 graduate teaching assistants at Madison. Now the Teaching Assistants' Association must seek dues from members by itself.
So, in summary:
Old system: automatic mandatory due collection from paychecks, no voting.
New system: voluntary dues, voting required.
The new system seems more democratic to me!