Local teachers union membership declines 20 percent

Published On: May 19 2013 06:20:40 PM CDT   Updated On: May 19 2013 07:00:26 PM CDT

It's been more than two years since Act 10 dismantled Wisconsin unions' collective bargaining abilities.

Teachers have long returned to their classrooms after picketing and protesting at the state Capitol.

But things haven't been quite the same for Coulee Region United Educators, also known as CRUE.

"We do what we've been doing all along. We just are doing it a little differently. Sometimes it's not quite as easy as it used to be. It's messier. It's a little more public," said CRUE Executive Director Gerry Roethel.

By next month, all 32 of the school districts that used to have contracts with CRUE will expire and individual membership will become more of an option.

More teachers are opting out.

Before the collective bargaining battle of 2011, nearly 100 percent of local school employees were members of CRUE.

Eighty percent of those who were members in 2011 are still members today. That means one in five is choosing not be in the union.

"That's typically better than a lot of other places around the state. I think part of it is the connection that our members have with the local association and with CRUE and the services that we've been able to provide to them over the years," said Roethel.

"I think people now have a choice. They're not being forced to be under a union contract anymore and I think people like the idea of a choice," said Tracie Happel, membership director for non-union, non-partisan professional organization Association of American Educators.

Some school employees who choose not to renew their membership with the union are turning to organizations like AAE. It's new to Wisconsin this year and has gained more than 300 members in the state.

"The feedback we've gotten from our members that have left the union and come to us is, No. 1, the cost is so much more effective,” said Happel. “We also are hearing from a lot of previous union members that they like the fact that we're non-partisan. We're not a union. We don't get involved in any politics whatsoever, and people really, really like that," said Happel.

But it doesn't bargain for wages, which is something CRUE continues to do even if it has to go about it a little differently now.