Labor unions still play a vital role in the electoral processes of Madison and Wisconsin. When they examine candidates, unions consider issues that political and media elites often ignore, and they do so with an expertise that extends from the circumstances of men and women working in their professions.
Often, the processes by which unions make endorsements are internal affairs. But one of Madison’s most important unions has been working to open things up, and that’s beneficial not only for union members but for the community as a whole.
Madison Teachers Inc., the union that includes teachers and many other Madison Metropolitan School District employees, has contacted the 10 candidates seeking seats on the School Board in the Feb. 19 primary and April 2 general election with a 30-question survey on everything from labor rights and compensation issues to teacher recruitment, charter and voucher schools, and achievement gaps. MTI Executive Director Doug Keillor told the Wisconsin State Journal that the answers will be posted on the union’s website (www.madisonteachers.org/elections-spring-2019/) and those answers will be a valuable resource in a year that features spirited multicandidate contests for three seats on the board.
The most important components of the questionnaire, we would argue, are those dealing with the achievement gap for students of color and the role that recruiting and retaining a diverse staff of teachers and administrators could play in addressing it. We are also pleased that the survey seeks to pin candidates down on questions regarding private charter schools and voucher schemes, which threaten to divert attention and resources away from public education.
Finally, we are thrilled that MTI is asking the candidates to get specific about labor rights in the school district and statewide. Scott Walker is no longer governor. But the “divide-and-conquer” damage he did lingers in the form of Act 10, the anti-labor scheme that undermined the collective bargaining rights of most public employees and created chaos for unions that have often been the ablest and most ardent champions of public education and public services.
Overturning Act 10 will not be easy. But doing so is necessary if we want to ensure that school districts can recruit and retain the best teachers from the most diverse backgrounds. So it is very good that MTI is asking Madison School Board candidates whether they favor “the reinstatement of collective bargaining rights for all public employees.”
The right answer to that question is “yes,” and we will be watching to see which candidates answer it correctly.
We’ll also be following up in our interviews with the contenders.
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