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Teachers union will move forward with members in lead

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Mary Bell
March 15, 2011

Wisconsin’s public school teachers and support staff are reeling after a week in which our state leaders put political ambitions before their constituents.


When the governor signed into law his unprecedented attack on workers’ rights, he did so amidst plummeting approval ratings and an intense and growing base of Wisconsinites who are outraged by the actions he is taking to destroy our great state.


Make no mistake, this disregard for public opinion and workplace rights will have a broad and lasting negative impact on our state’s future. From schools, to hospitals, to public services—and ultimately, to middle-class families across this state, the damage these actions set into place will be deep and wide.


On behalf of educators across our state, I remind you that weeks ago we accepted the financial concessions the governor asked for to help solve our state’s budget crisis. But we have consistently said that silencing the voices of workers by eliminating their collective-bargaining rights goes too far.


Our members responded with the passion and conviction you’d expect from people who spend their days educating, motivating and inspiring our students to succeed—by the very profession they have chosen. Educators don’t select their career path for the money—they enter their workplaces with a voice and passion for the future they want to be a part of creating.


Now that the bill is to become law, my members ask me, “What do we do when leaders won’t listen?”


I know we won’t go away. We won’t give up a lifetime of dedication to education. We will continue—in all ways we know how—to be the light of inspiration to our students, stable forces in our communities. We will continue to move Wisconsin forward.


When leaders won’t listen, we must turn to our friends, neighbors and families. If silenced on one front, our voices can and will find new direction. That includes speaking up against a proposed budget that cuts about $1 billion from public education and harms the middle class, yet caters to out-of-state billionaires and corporate interests.


Educators believe in union, in joining together rather than tearing apart. But the divisions that have been created in our state by our elected leadership ignoring the voice of the public and pursuing the national corporate agenda won’t be easily mended.


All along, Wisconsin educators have peacefully participated in our democracy. As the nation and, more important, our students looked on, we did what we thought necessary to express ourselves and stand up for our values. It is my sincere hope that, in coming months and years, our actions will be remembered as our best efforts to retain a voice for our students, our schools and our profession—respecting our democracy and, in turn, worthy of respect.


As an organization, the Wisconsin Education Association Council will move forward, as we always do, with our members in the lead.


Mary Bell is a Wisconsin Rapids junior high teacher with 33 years experience in the classroom. She is serving as president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a union of 98,000 educators dedicated to strong schools and communities. Learn more at weac.org or write to her at WEAC, 33 Nob Hill Road, Madison, WI 53713.

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