How “Informal Bargaining” Works in Wisconsin

Labor Notes describes the environment in Wisconsin, and how “informal bargaining” has taken the place of collective bargaining for public sector employees. Here’s an example:

The Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee waged a campaign of escalating direct action in fall 2012, after a dean tried to cancel a benefit.

MGAA’s contract had expired. A dean announced that a specific type of summer tuition waiver would no longer be available, violating his previous pledge not to change the terms that had existed in MGAA’s contract.

MGAA members first emailed the dean to declare their objections, get more information, and attempt to move him. When it became clear he wasn’t going to budge, they launched a “campaign of annoyance.”

They used fliers to educate graduate students and faculty about the reversal, then organized members and allies to take escalating actions over a couple weeks.

The idea was to decrease the amount of work that could get done in the dean’s office. Members and supporters flooded the office with emails, then phone calls.

Graduate students, undergraduates, faculty, and staff filled out a card urging the dean to reinstate tuition remission and do no further harm. They delivered all the signed cards to his office. And they held an informational picket outside the dean’s building.

The dean relented, emailing the whole college to say he wasn’t making the cut and that MGAA had misunderstood. MGAA distributed a second flier pointing out that the union’s direct action had caused him to back down.

Not only did the union prevent the cut, it sent the signal that future cuts would be met with resistance from all campus constituencies.

Someday, someone is going to realize that “campaign of annoyance” stuff can work both ways. Then watch the fun.