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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


TAA pickets UW buildings, garners negative response from some legislators

Hundreds of teaching assistants and project assistants picketed
in front of University of Wisconsin academic buildings Tuesday and
will continue to do so today, much to the frustration of state

The Teaching Assistants’ Association picketed many
buildings on the UW central campus, including Social Sciences,
Humanities, Vilas Hall and Bascom Hall. Bascom Hall houses
administration as well as classes.

More than 1,200 TAs and PAs walked off the job today, verbally
expressing disapproval of faculty, staff and students who crossed
picket lines to attend classes. Many visible signs around the
picket lines displayed the TAA’s demand for higher wages and
no-premium health care.


Officials from the Office of State Employee Relations did not
say the administration would act punitively on the illegal strike
at this time but said OSER looks forward to continuing

After a contract is reached by OSER and the TAA, it will move to
the Joint Committee on Employee Relations and then the Wisconsin

But the two-day walkout, to be followed by a grade strike,
garnered negative responses from the offices of both majority
leaders in the Republican-held Assembly and Senate.

“It certainly sends a message,” said Steve Baas,
press secretary for Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo. The
strike sent a strong message of a “total disregard for state
law” and “disregard of responsibility for their
job” and was counterproductive, Baas said.

“This isn’t Samuel Gompers and the sweatshop
we’re talking about,” he said.

Gard’s constituents and many other Wisconsin taxpayers
would not support the illegal job action by the TAA, Baas said.

“People who are being paid for by taxpayer money should at
least acknowledge the realities that taxpayers have to deal
with,” Baas said. “I don’t think there’s
going to be a lot of sympathy from taxpayers. … A mill
worker up in Peshtigo … fearing a layoff (would not support

Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer, R-West Bend, a member of the
Joint Committee of Employment Relations, said in an e-mailed
response that she is deeply disappointed with the decision of the

Despite the TAA’s determination to hold out for more
compensation or $0 monthly health-care premiums, its situation is
no different from that of other state bargaining units, Panzer

“Every contract approved in this session has required
state employees to contribute at least a nominal share of
health-care costs,” she said. “People make better
health-care consumers when they have a financial stake in the
system. Teaching assistants are no different. The proper place for
the TAs to be is in the classroom. By walking off the job and
threatening to withhold grades for the end of the semester, they
unjustly punish the students they pledge to help.”

Even traditional supporters of the TAA have expressed
reservations on the job action.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, voted for the TAA’s right to
organize decades ago and said he sympathizes with unions that try
to negotiate contracts for what they believe they need. The TAA
must understand that the balance of power tips toward the
conservatives this term, he said.

“You’ve got to realize that the state Legislature is
currently controlled by conservative Republicans,” Risser
said. “I would anticipate that even if they put [no-cost
health care] in the contract … I doubt the Legislature would
approve it.”

The job action might not have been the right move, since the
strike is illegal under Wisconsin law and is prohibited by the
contract and contract extension negotiated with the TAA, Risser

“I would certainly hope that an agreement could be reached
without having to resort to illegal acts,” Risser said.
“The people who really suffer here are those who are trying
to get an education. I’m not convinced that this [strike] is
in the best interest of the TAA.”

The strike itself, however, was “very successful,”
according to Teaching Assistants’ Association publicity chair,
material sciences and engineering TA Jonathan Puthoff.

Puthoff did not hear of any major incidents that would
compromise the TAA’s pledge to the UW administration to
refrain from physical or verbal intimidation of students or

He did admit, however, that sometimes individuals’
emotions get the best of them.

“Our membership has been going through a lot, and
we’ve really been treated unfairly,” Puthoff said.
“You get worse treatment sitting in section,

Some picketers chanted, “Don’t cross the picket
lines,” booed students going to class and called others
entering picketed buildings “scabs.”

UW Communications reported that about half a dozen individual
minor incidents occurred, ranging from picketers blocking access to
loading docks and entries, to minor disruption of delivery

Casey Nagy, special assistant to Chancellor John Wiley, said in
a press release the vast majority of the picketers were civil and

“A disintegration of that promise would be
regrettable,” Nagy said. “At the end of the day
Wednesday, we need to have enough mutual respect to go back to the
bargaining table and move ahead with negotiations.”

Director of OSER Karen Timberlake said she sent a letter to TAA
offices, asking the union to call off the strike as soon as

“It’s scheduled for two days, but it doesn’t
have to last for two days,” Timberlake said.

TAA officials said they have yet to receive the letter, and
Puthoff said the plan for the walkout would continue as planned,
culminating in a march to the Capitol Wednesday.

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