Archive for February, 2011

Really Walker?

February 22, 2011 11:06 am

You’re going to throw a temper tantrum that includes punishing some hard working wisconsin public employees? Just sit at the bargaining table!

News from Madison

February 17, 2011 3:19 pm

I know it’s been a long time since we’ve posted, and we’ll post more personal stuff soon, I promise, but right now I have some news I’d like to share. I want to preface this post by saying that I don’t have nearly all the facts but I just wanted to share with you all what’s going on in our neck of the woods.

Newly instated Wisconsin Governor Walker has proposed a fairly radical budget repair bill aiming to reduce our state deficit, which is large, like in many states. However, among his strategies is a proposal to end collective bargaining for all public employees, excluding police officers, firefighters, and state troopers, demolishing a right that workers in this state have had for about 50 years. In addition, he has proposed cuts to compensation packages via some substantial cuts in the benefits package, stating that Wisconsin public employees are over-payed compared to private sector employees. (There’s a great recent study showing definitively that this is untrue.) So, why am I writing about this? Because public employees are the backbone of my state, and include the K-12 teachers as well as academic staff, faculty and many GRADUATE STUDENTS in the UW campuses.

First of all, reducing compensation (and taking away labor rights!) is not an incentive for keeping effective, qualified teachers or recruiting additional highly educated, well trained teachers. Without good teachers we will NOT have well educated children in our state. Period.

Second of all, despite their cutting edge research, excellent mentorship, and millions of dollars in federal grants UW faculty are already on the low end of the pay scale compared to other top public universities in the country. Cutting benefits and reducing bargaining capacity is not going to help retain and recruit top-notch faculty (and thus students!)

Finally, I’m not sure how my own benefits, salary, and rights are going to be affected by this bill, and there are many other graduate students who will likely be more affected than I will (since I have some federal funding). Many of us have been worried how the end of collective bargaining will affect tuition remission. To my knowledge, no university of our quality doesn’t offer tuition remission along with TAship (teaching) or PAship (research) to Ph.D. students, at least in Psychology. Tuition remission is a huge part of our compensation package for the work we do for the university, as tuition costs are way more than TA compensation. Fortunately, the Chancellor has released a statement that tuition remission will not be affected by this bill, but I think a lot of graduate students are still wary anyway. I basically have no idea how the end of collective bargaining will impact our position in the University and that’s scary.

All in all, stripping our right to collective bargaining is not a progressive move for the state of Wisconsin. Since Monday, demonstrators have been rallying at the state capitol building. I was among them yesterday and the day before and I am going again today to stand up for the labor rights of workers in my state. On Monday, 10,000 people rallied, by Tuesday there were 15,000, and yesterday’s reports ranged from 20,000 to 30,000. Likely to join the protest, over 40% of teachers and staff in the Madison school district called in sick yesterday, forcing the whole system to close and the same has happened today. The TAA (teaching assistants association) has called for a Teach-Out at the UW, urging TAs and professors to reschedule classes or hold them off campus to demonstrate our seriousness.

Yesterday, the bill was passed in the Joint Finance Committee (with an amendment removing the provision to strip benefits from certain UW employees completely, thank goodness). So, they are hearing our voice, at least a little (boy are we loud out there). Still, the bill is being taken up in the Senate as I write and Republican leaders expect it to pass.**I wrote that at 11am, by now (2:30pm) we’re pretty sure that ALL of the democratic state senators have left the state in order to delay the vote. Totally awesome.**

Love and hope from a state of unrest,