AFT-Wisconsin Convention Round-Up

This past week, delegates from the TAA attended and participated in the AFT-Wisconsin convention. As we noted earlier last week, being a part of a broader labor movement, including our state federation of unions, is a really important part of having a strong local here in the TAA. We also outlined some of the business to be handled at the convention.

On Wednesday at the convention, former TAA Co-President Tim Frandy wound down his tenure as a member of the AFT-Wisconsin Executive Board as the Vice President of the Graduate Employee Council. On Friday, we elected a new VP of the Grad Council from the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association. Traditionally, the TAA and the MGAA trade off holding the vice presidency of the council and a seat on the AFT-Wisconsin board. More on elections and other business conducted by delegates below…

Thursday’s convention business included workshops geared toward the different councils and constituency groups, including two sessions for workers in higher education. The big topic was organizing in higher ed and how AFT-Wisconsin is building a campaign to unionize faculty and staff at UW System schools. Organizing drives are off the ground on multiple campuses and are doing well. Also of note, the state employees’ council went through multiple sessions on tackling the State of Wisconsin budget crisis and the K12 teachers’ council went through a session on building political power around education issues.

The convention also included two special events on Tuesday. First, AFT national’s Executive Vice President, Loretta Johnson (the #2 elected official of the national union), addressed delegates in a keynote speech. Loretta’s story is pretty incredible: she started as a paraprofessional in the Baltimore schools in 1966 and led the unionization of education support workers there; from there, she rose to become the president of AFT-Maryland, before becoming a vice president of AFT. In 2008, she was elected Executive Vice President of AFT on the first all-female slate to lead a national union.

Later in the evening on Thursday, contributors to and members of AFT-Wisconsin’s Committee on Political Education (COPE), our political action committee, attended a special reception to celebrate our political work in 2008 and 2009, look forward to our work in 2010, and to hear from State Senator Julie Lassa. Senator Lassa is one of the best friends of AFT-Wisconsin in the state legislature, a champion of public employees like us and an ardent opponent of privatization of public institutions. She spoke of the challenges facing state government right now and how vital it is that public employees like us participate heavily in the political process, because of the nature of what’s always at stake on who is fighting against us (big business, the ideological right-wing, etc).

Friday was the main delegate session of the convention. First, we voted upon union officers. The office of the presidency was uncontested, as the candidate that the TAA supported strongly and elected to office in 2007, Bryan Kennedy, did not have a challenger. The new office of Executive Vice President was to be filled in a hotly-contested race. As we noted last week, the TAA voted to endorse Marietta Love from Local 212, the faculty and staff at Milwaukee Area Technical College. In an incredibly close election, Greg Georg, from the Wisconsin Professional Employees’ Council defeated Marietta by just a few hundred votes (out of about 15,000). Both Marietta and Greg were excellent candidates and we look forward to working with Greg.

After officer elections, the federation took up amendments to our Constitution & Bylaws. Of note here, a resolution put forward by Local 212, the TAA, and the MGAA won with a strong margin; this resolution lifted onerous restrictions on the use of our AFT-Wisconsin Solidarity Fund so as to enable better organizing and political action in service of our union’s goals.

Also during the convention “floor” period, delegates from The Association of University of Wisconsin Professionals, the UW System faculty and academic staff union organizing on campuses around the state, and the TAA put forward a special order of business in support of workers’ rights. We took up allocating money from the convention’s discretionary fund to contribute to two groups that work with low-wage and immigrant workers, The Workers’ Rights Center and Voces de la Frontera. The motion won overwhelmingly, directing extra money from the convention fund to support the critical work of building a 21st century labor movement and supporting the cause of worker justice.

Finally, the convention delegates debated and voted upon resolutions. Resolutions that were passed included: supporting comprehensive immigration reform, advocating for state tax and budget fairness, calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan, supporting single payer healthcare reform, calling for passage of labor law reform, and calling upon the State of Wisconsin and the UW System not to use public money to support union-busting on campuses.

The convention was a great success for both the TAA and AFT-Wisconsin. We handled the union’s business well and delegates from the TAA played a critical role in moving a progressive agenda in the state federation, further establishing our local as a key part of AFT-Wisconsin and the labor movement as a whole.

If you have any questions about the AFT-Wisconsin convention or our roles in AFT or the broader labor movement, be in touch with Co-President Peter Rickman.