How We’re Surviving Right to Work: Conversations Are the Building Blocks for Milwaukee Teachers

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, May 16, 2017

For public-employee unions in Wisconsin, an open shop isn’t even the worst of it. The anti-union Act 10, which Governor Scott Walker forced through in 2011, mandated annual recertification votes and all but eliminated collective bargaining.

Some unions gave up on staying certified at all—but not the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. So far its 4,600 members include 69 percent of the district’s teachers and a narrow majority of educational assistants.

An organizing team of two staffers and six members on release time is working hard to raise those numbers, focusing on six schools per semester. Organizers tailor a plan based on the particular history and challenges at each school, but the universal building blocks are one-on-one conversations to find out members’ concerns, identify leaders, and ask people to join the union.

You have to learn to tolerate the discomfort of directly asking people to join, says Vice President Amy Mizialko. Especially in a district where school vouchers and private charter schools have already siphoned off a major share of the public schools’ budget, she tells co-workers that their students are counting on them: “The only way we can effect change for students and educators is being collectively organized.”….