Can collective-bargaining case help with WI teacher shortage?
Monday, December 4, 2023
A lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's collective near-total bargaining ban for most public workers is by some seen as a way to bolster the state's beleaguered educator workforce.
A coalition of unions filed a lawsuit last week seeking to overturn Act 10, which places heavy limitations on negotiating rights for public-sector unions. The law has been in place a dozen years and was a major priority for conservative lawmakers.
The latest lawsuit comes as Wisconsin, like other states, grapples with teacher shortages.
Madeline Topf, co-president of the Teaching Assistants Association, which represents graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a plaintiff in the case, said restoring rights could make the state an attractive place for future educators and researchers.
"Having really strong education through academia, as well as in public schools, is really important for training the next generation but also recruiting people," Topf explained.
The controversial law has been able to stay in place despite past efforts to have it thrown out. A recent report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum noted the state's teacher turnover rate has climbed from 8% in 2010 to more than 15% in the last school year.
Topf noted at the graduate student level, she and her peers are very passionate about what they are studying. She feels not having the right to bargain for extra support erodes at their enthusiasm to carry out a public mission.
"We have people who have to live with many roommates, or don't have enough money to get groceries," Topf observed.
She pointed out at the university, her union is in the midst of a major campaign citing the need for paid leave benefits.
The lawsuit was filed after the Wisconsin Supreme Court flipped to a liberal majority. Legal analysts said it could take time for it to reach the high court, and there is the possibility the newest liberal justice would recuse herself from the case. Meanwhile, Republican leaders say overturning the law would result in budget harm for schools.
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