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  • In Face of Act 10, Wisconsin Teaching Assistants Advocating for Workers
    Posted On: Sep 04, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, September 5, 2016

    The University of Wisconsin Teaching Assistant’s Association, American Federation of Teachers Local 3220, is beginning its year with a massive membership drive to recruit members from the new crop of graduate students.  TAA Co-President Dylan Kaufman-Obstler says the university once again has changes to graduate student employment policies in the works, and Wisconsin’s anti-union Act 10 legislation is compromising their ability to effectively advocate for graduate student workers.  Act 10 prohibits public worker unions from being able to negotiate over anything besides basic wages:

    [Dylan Kaufman-Obstler]: “Since Act 10, the university has honored the 2009 contract [that we negotiated] except for the parts about union rights.  However, the university has been making changes that override the contract, and this is really the first time since Act 10 that we’ve seen that.  We won’t take no for an answer, and what that takes is organizing.  These are things that affect us, and regardless of Act 10, we’re going to do everything in our power.”

    One of the proposed changes involves converting the contract into a new employee handbook:

    [Dylan Kaufman-Obstler]: “They’re updating it, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, we really have to fight now to have a seat at the table to be a part of that process.  We have to leverage our power to make sure that graduate students are effectively being advocated for.”

    Another issue the TAA will be organizing around involves a proposal to restructure graduate student pay.  The union fought a proposal last fall to divorce hours worked from how much workers get paid, but the proposal is back this year and continues to have problematic language in it about departments adjusting their pay according to ‘market factors’:

    [Dylan Kaufman-Obstler]: “Basically the proposal acknowledges that we need to get paid more.  We’re in the bottom of the top ten research universities.  However, it needs to be done in a way that some teaching assistant in humanities, that their classes are worse less than a teaching assistance in a science department, or that research assistants will get paid so much more than teaching assistants.  We’re a public university and to use language like ‘market forces’ undermines what we’re here to do and undermines the value of an education in which students learn how to be critical thinkers and can also do research in science and math.  And to have this kind of privatization orientation to public education is very problematic.”

    When the university re-released the proposal in August, they presented it as the result of input from a committee that included one of the TAA’s former co-presidents:

    [Dylan Kaufman-Obstler]: “The committee never actually never consented to this proposal.  So they actually used the concept of shared governance as a smokescreen for their unilateral actions.”


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