The Wisconsin Senate, without the participation of Democrats, voted Wednesday to approve legislation that would end the right of University of Wisconsin System faculty members to unionize.
Democratic senators have for several weeks prevented a vote on the measure by remaining outside the state, thereby depriving the Senate of the quorum required for voting on fiscal statutes. But the Republican majority on Wednesday separated the collective bargaining provisions from budget-related measures also in the original bill, and so was able to proceed without any Democrats present. The House in Wisconsin has already passed the measures on collective bargaining -- and is expected to approve the stand-alone version of the bill today.
Proposed by Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, the bill also severely limits collective bargaining rights of most other public employees in the state.
While faculty unions were not the focus of the debate, the legislation now appears poised to kill what had been a major victory for academic labor: the potential to organize University of Wisconsin faculty members. After years of trying, labor advocates in 2009 won state legislation that permitted the organizing of faculty members in the university system.
Since then, faculty members at four of the system's campuses -- Eau Claire, La Crosse, Stout and Superior -- have voted to unionize, all with the American Federation of Teachers, which has made the unionization of UW campuses a major goal. The latest union vote, at Stout, was announced on Wednesday -- just before the Senate moved in a way that could make the action moot.
The Stout vote, like those of other campuses, was not close. Faculty voted 196-31 to unionize.
AFT officials in Wisconsin vowed to continue their efforts -- and many are involved in efforts to recall Republican senators with the goal of later undoing the governor's legislation that now appears on the verge of being enacted. (Campaigns to recall Democratic senators are also under way.)
Bryan Kennedy, president of AFT Wisconsin and faculty member at the University of Milwaukee at Wisconsin, issued this statement: "The election at UW-Stout -- and other UW campuses in the last year -- is more evidence that public employees want a voice at work. In stark comparison, today's actions by Republican legislators demonstrate that they and the governor want to silence public employees and workers. We will continue to organize to protect the rights of public employees and all workers in Wisconsin, including UW faculty and staff who continue to demonstrate their support for collective bargaining with these landslide victories in favor of union representation."
The AFT also represents other academic employees, who had union rights before the 2009 legislation that are also now in jeopardy. These employees include locals at technical colleges and of teaching assistants. Some technical college locals have been trying to get contracts finalized before the governor's legislation takes effect.
In Ohio, the Senate has passed legislation that would effectively eliminate faculty unions at public colleges and universities in that state, which is heavily organized by the American Association of University Professors.