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Joan Bahr ’83

No you’re not, Joan. The current friction in Wisconsin between the unions and the governor is like déjà vu all over again.

Shortly after the Teaching Assistants Association was created in 1966, its members realized that a formally recognized union with bargaining rights was the best way to protect the working conditions of graduate assistants and improve undergraduate education at UW-Madison. The result was a Structural Agreement that provided the legal basis for the first collective bargaining unit of graduate employees in the United States.

While bargaining for the first contract between a university and its graduate assistants, the TAA went on strike for four weeks in 1970. After negotiating four more contracts with the university throughout the 1970s, they went on strike again in March 1980 — during your freshman year. At issue was the union’s very existence, and after the TAA worked for nearly a year without a contract, Chancellor Irving Shain announced that he was terminating the Structural Agreement and 10 years of bargaining.

Though it seemed that the TAA’s second strike had failed, it galvanized members to address the underlying weakness in their position: the lack of legal bargaining rights. With intensive outreach and lobbying and the support of unionists from across Wisconsin, the TAA accomplished what many had considered impossible: in October 1985, the Wisconsin legislature passed a bargaining rights bill, despite opposition from the university. And once again, TAs had the opportunity to bargain about the conditions of their employment.

Since the mid-1980s, the TAA has bargained for domestic-partner benefits, paid teacher training, pay equity and affordable health insurance, among other work place benefits and protections.

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