There are still some open questions in the aftermath of the WEAC layoffs – which the union appears reluctant to answer. WEAC executive director Dan Burkhalter wouldn’t tell the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about membership levels, saying it was “internal information,” and a WEAC spokeswoman “refused an on-camera interview with WISC-TV Monday, and a conference call later that day was cut short after only two reporters had asked questions.”
Most media outlets have been reporting that the 42 pink-slipped staffers constitute 40 percent of the union’s workforce, but there must be some detail missing. The union’s 2008-09 filings show 151 employees, and I can guarantee you WEAC was not servicing 98,000 members with 105 staffers.
Also lost in the discussion is that the costs of WEAC’s professional staff are subsidized through NEA’s UniServ program, which last year contributed $2.7 million. Even a large drop in membership shouldn’t require such a large layoff, suggesting either WEAC’s numbers are really bad, or the union is badly overreacting. Again, when we hear from the staff union we’ll have some idea which it is.
Naturally, most observers are more concerned with the external causes and effects of the layoffs, but I want to emphasize what a big deal this is internally. Mass layoffs of NEA affiliate employees just don’t happen. You can go through the EIA archives for stories about serious money problems in Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, Michigan, Illinois and elsewhere, but you won’t find anyone hacking staff in one fell swoop like this. It’s unprecedented.