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A Report from AFT-Wisconsin's 2014 Convention

I’ve always loved attending our AFT-Wisconsin convention. Spending time with union leaders and activists from across our state is a great reminder of the diversity and strength of our membership. And beyond that, it energizes me, as a public sector employee and as a union member, for the important work that lies ahead of us in Wisconsin.

This was a very busy and eventful convention, but I wanted to share some highlights from Green Bay (beyond the Packers’ shellacking of the Eagles on Sunday) with those of you who weren’t able to attend. One of my favorite sessions was a panel of AFT-Wisconsin members on Friday afternoon, in which leaders from three of our local unions shared stories of successful organizing campaigns in their locals. Jon Shelton of UW-Green Bay United, Kathy Evert of the Wisconsin Heights Federation of Teachers, and Michael Billeaux of the Teaching Assistants’ Association talked about their efforts to bring union members together to advocate in their worksites, which was followed by a lively Q&A session with delegates. I’d like to thank Jon, Kathy, and Michael for being outstanding examples of union activism, and for sharing their stories with convention delegates.

We were also fortunate to honor several individuals, as well as one of our local unions, for receiving prestigious awards. Kathy Monaghan, Linda Baehr, and Joy Bashara received AFT Living Legacy Awards for their years of service both as labor movement activists and as role models and advocates for women’s rights.  Bob Beglinger was honored as a Senior Champion by the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans for his work on behalf of retirees and retirement security in Wisconsin. AFT Local 212, the union of faculty and staff at Milwaukee Area Technical College, was awarded one of two grants from the AFT for Solution-Driven Unionism for their work in increasing graduation and course completion rates on campus. And Tim Hawks, AFT-Wisconsin legal counsel, announced that Barbara Quindel, his partner in their legal firm Hawks and Quindel and an outstanding, passionate defender of workers’ legal rights, was named the national American Bar Association’s Arvid Anderson Public Sector Labor and Employment Attorney of the Year. Congratulations to each of these individuals, and to Local 212, for their outstanding work!

Members were joined by two outstanding Wisconsin legislators during the convention. On Thursday night, Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) discussed the retirement security crisis in Wisconsin and the rest of the country, and talked about legislation he has authored that calls for the creation of a private sector version of the Wisconsin Retirement System to help ensure retirement security for all Wisconsinites. And on Friday night at our Committee on Political Education reception, we were joined by Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), a former public defender and still a dues-paying member of local 4822, the Wisconsin State Public Defenders Association. Rep. Goyke talked with us about the need for politicians who are proud to stand up for workers’ rights, fair wages, high-quality public education, and strong public services; and called on members to engage in political activism at the community level to begin the hard work of rebuilding a Wisconsin that works for all of us.

On Saturday, our delegates passed many amendments to our constitution and bylaws, including shifting from an annual convention to a convention held every odd-numbered year, as is the practice of the national AFT and the AFL-CIO. The latter change, delegates felt, would allow us to shift additional resources to supporting the work of our local unions in a more direct way.

I’d like to thank each of our delegates that attended, and to encourage all of you to consider attending our 2015 convention. The ideas that we discussed and the stories that we shared last weekend point the way to a bright future for AFT-Wisconsin and our locals, and I look forward to working together with all of you to make that happen.

In solidarity,

Kim Kohlhaas
President, AFT-Wisconsin