For decades, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) has been in fat city. Now? Not so much. On Monday, WEAC issued layoff notices to 40 percent of its staff, blaming the state’s new limitations on collective bargaining.
Until these collective bargaining limits became effective in the budget repair bill signed in June by Gov. Scott Walker, school districts automatically deducted union dues from the paychecks of their teachers – about 98,000 statewide – and sent monthly checks to the union. Dues range annually from $461 to $750 per teacher, depending on add-ons.
These dues funded the WEAC budget, $23.4 million in 2009, of which about $14.4 million went to union staff salaries averaging $95,250 per employee. It also spent $2.5 million in lobbying state legislators in 2009 and 2010. Since 2008, WEAC has made campaign contributions of more than $4 million, though these contributions come from a separate political action fund.
Payroll deductions ceased under the new budget signed into law last month, so any teacher wishing to remain a union member will have to write out a personal check for WEAC dues.
Teachers also will now be required to contribute 5.8 percent of their annual retirement contributions and 12.6 percent of their health care premiums, a total estimated at $1,104 per year. Foregoing union membership would limit the financial impact of these new benefits contributions. In addition, union representation must be re-certified annually in each district.
A Madison radio station reported Monday that a WEAC employee said in an email the number of dues-paying teachers was expected to shrink from just short of 100,000 to less than 50,000.
About two-thirds of the teachers in Wisconsin are covered by union contracts negotiated with local school districts, which mostly require payment of WEAC dues.
The rest of the teachers in the state must be convinced one-on-one to pay dues. And the number of dues-paying teachers will decline as contracts expire. WEAC has a “membership continuation” program underway, but won’t say how it’s going. Judging by the layoff notices, it’s not going well.
It’s never good when people lose their jobs. But WEAC grew fat for decades on involuntary dues. Now, like hundreds of other voluntary trade associations, it will have to prove that membership has benefits in order to survive competition with mortgage and credit card payments. It’s not apparent now, though, what those benefits are.