University Committee Endorsement of Collective Bargaining Rights

The University Committee joins other faculty colleagues by embracing and endorsing the following correspondence.

UW Madison Faculty Support Collective Bargaining Rights for all Workers

Dear Governor Walker, State Legislators, and Citizens of Wisconsin,

As scholars, teachers and citizens, we recognize that the right to form unions and bargain collectively has been essential to the establishment and enrichment of democracy in Wisconsin, in the United States and around the world.  The International Labor Organization, which the United States joined in 1934, states that “the right of workers and employers to form and join organizations of their own choosing is an integral part of a free and open society” and includes collective bargaining rights among the four “fundamental principles and rights at work.”  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States endorsed in 1948, states that all workers have the “right to form and to join trade unions for the protection” of their interests.  Since 1935, it has been federal policy in the United States to “encourage collective bargaining” as a tool for avoiding labor conflict and improving wages and working conditions in private industry.  The state of Wisconsin led the way in extending those principles to the public sector, adopting a 1959 law stating that public employees, elected officials and the public itself all have an interest in “industrial peace, regular and adequate income for the employee, and uninterrupted production of goods and services.”  Toward that end, the law affirmed that “an employee has the right, if the employee desires, to associate with others in organizing and bargaining collectively through representatives of the employee’s own choosing, without intimidation or coercion from any source.”

We are concerned, therefore, about the governor’s proposal to deprive public employees of the right to bargain collectively in Wisconsin.  Collective bargaining has been critical to providing decent standards of living to millions of Americans, playing a central role in the creation of this nation’s large middle class.  Unions have also been crucial vehicles for democracy, giving workers a voice in their places of employment and in society as a whole.  Curtailing workers’ ability to form unions and to bargain collectively can only diminish the economic and political benefits that the practice has brought to our state.

As UW faculty and the executive committee of the Faculty Senate, we are particularly concerned about the impact that this proposal would have on staff and graduate assistants, upon whom we rely for crucial support as we conduct our research and teach our courses.  Staff is the organizational infrastructure of the university. They create communication structures, advise students, schedule classes and rooms, orchestrate information and computing technology, manage budgets and finances, and myriad other essential tasks—at wages already lower than they would receive in the private sector.  Graduate assistants teach 85% of the discussion sections and 17% of the lectures at UW Madison, while staffing 46% of the research labs.  Their wages and benefits are already very low, and any additional cuts will have detrimental effects on their efficiency and morale, as well as their health and well being.  Such cuts will also make it very difficult for us to recruit the high quality staff and graduate students that have helped make UW Madison a leading research university in the United States and internationally.  From there it is a short step to losing out in the competition for federal research dollars, through which UW currently injects nearly $1 billion into the state’s economy each year.

We recognize that the state faces a severe budget shortfall. We have already taken wage and benefits cuts to help address that problem and expect to make more sacrifices in the future.  But eliminating collective bargaining will not address this shortfall. We urge you not to allow this crisis to undermine our state’s strong traditions of democracy and human rights.


The University Committee

Susan E. Babcock, Material Science and Engineering

Brad Barham, Agricultural and Applied Economics

Judith Burstyn, Chemistry (chair)

Gail Geiger, Art History

Peter Lipton, Physiology

Ann Palmenberg, Biochemistry

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