WEAC History Book Chp 2
The teachers' strike in
Kettle Moraine was one of more than 50 throughout the state during
a 10-year period starting in the late 1960s.
Stories about the 1959 Wisconsin Collective Bargaining
Law and how it passed are apocryphal and difficult to verify. Many say
Wisconsin’s teachers gained their collective bargaining rights rather
accidentally, as conservative lawmakers who opposed collective bargaining
rights for public employees added teachers to the bill thinking that would
convince moderates to vote against it. To the conservatives’ chagrin,
the bill passed anyway, and apparently did so without the support or even
the real notice of the Wisconsin Education Association.
What is not in dispute is that the 1959 law was the first collective
bargaining law for public employees in the United States, and the first
law of any kind that granted teachers anywhere the right to organize into
The law lay dormant for a few years, as it was ignored by the administrator-dominated
WEA and not well understood by most local teachers’ associations.
When courts ruled that the law was constitutional and did, indeed, apply
to teachers, isolated pockets of organizing activity started to take place
throughout the state.
In February 1964, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association
(MTEA) became the first certified teachers’ bargaining agent. Other
locals followed suit, and in a short period of time there were several
instances of WEA-member teachers and WEA-member administrators sitting
across the table in contentious bargaining negotiations. The first WEA-local
teachers strike took place in 1969 in Ashwaubenon, when 83 teachers engaged
in a four-day walkout.
The Municipal Employment Relations Act (MERA) was amended in 1971 in
four significant ways. First, the amendment made it a requirement for
districts to bargain with teachers, rather than simply allowing collective
bargaining. Second, binding arbitration was included as a means for settling
stalemates. The third amendment stipulated that the obligation to bargain
did not expire once the school board offered a contract, but continued
until the contract was signed. Previously, school board members would
stop bargaining in good faith after making their first contract offer.
activists and organizers turned WEA into the Wisconsin Education
Association Council...[which] would represent teachers in contract
negotiations and could legally collect and contribute money to political
Finally, the MERA amendments of 1971 made Fair Share an item that could
be bargained in local contracts. This made it possible for teachers to
be included in their school districts’ bargaining units on the day
they were hired, rather than being required to sign up to have the union
Another, mostly symbolic, change to MERA in 1971 established that supervisors
would not be allowed membership in WEA as of January 1, 1974, making official
what had already been happening for several years. By the time the law
passed, most principals and other supervisors had already left WEA.
Amid the tumult over civil rights laws and the war in Vietnam, and the
hope and promise of MERA, WEA was also changing from the inside. WEA field
organizers and active members of local associations understood the value
of collective bargaining and collective action and saw the limitations
of an organization that did not support political action and accepted
members from both sides of collective bargaining disputes. Wisconsin was
part of the “first wave” of state teacher associations that
reorganized to become state teachers’ unions in the late 1960s and
early 1970s. Other states in that first wave included Michigan, Illinois,
Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York.