In The News
Fighting to teach labor history
Strong support has developed in favor of a bill requiring every school district in Wisconsin to teach labor history and collective bargaining in the schools. The major blockade is Republican sponsorship, particularly in the Assembly.
The proposal is needed because of the appalling lack of knowledge that high school graduates have about unions, said David Nack, representing the Wisconsin Labor History Society in testifying for the bill at a December hearing.
“When we’re talking about the history of working people, we’re talking about the history of the United States,” Nack said.
“If this new proposal is to win passage, it’s critical that all persons who care about children being given education about working people and their unions contact their state senators and representatives,” commented Ken Germanson, president of the society.
The future of the bill rests on action in the Legislative session that continues into early 2008. With the Democrats in control of the Senate, it is expected there will be action on the measure; however, in order for it to be scheduled for a vote in the Assembly, some Republicans will need to understand the need for the bill and join in supporting it.
Six state senators have introduced Senate Bill 108 which would call for schools to meet an educational goal to provide: “Knowledge of state, national, and world history, including the history of organized labor in America and the collective bargaining process.” The bill proposes adding the words shown in italics to Sec. 118.01 (2) (c) 6 of the State Statutes, a section that provides guidance on educating children in preparing them for citizenship.
This is the fifth time in the last 15 years that efforts have been made to pass a measure requiring the teaching of labor history in the schools. All previous attempts have failed, usually due to almost solid opposition of Republican legislators in one or more Houses of the Legislature. The measure has passed the State Senate in the past, with some Republican support, only to be stalled and never brought to a vote in the Assembly.
SB 108 was given wide support in testimony at the December hearing held by the Senate Education Committee and chaired by Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine). Testimony in support of the bill came from Phil Neuenfeldt, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO: “Senate Bill 108 is here because of what union leaders have told us over the years. They see younger workers coming into the workforce without any knowledge of the labor movement they are about to join. Labor history is really the greatest story never told."
Don Garner-Gerhardt, government affairs director of Teamsters Joint Council 39, said the history of labor is “seminal” in teaching about the history of Wisconsin.
He submitted a strong statement of support from Fred Gegare, president of Wisconsin Teamsters Joint Council 39. Others testifying in support were State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay); Russell R. Retzack, retired member of the Operating Engineers Local 139; and Jim Cook, NECA-IBEW Apprenticeship Program. In favor of the bill were representatives of the AFT-Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Education Association Council.
The only persons registering against the bill represented the School Administrators Alliance and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
The bill’s key sponsors are Sen. Hansen and Rep. Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee). Co-sponsors (all Democrats) include Senators Lehman, Bob Wirch of Kenosha, Jeff Plale of South Milwaukee, Fred Risser of Madison and Jim Sullivan of Wauwatosa; and Representatives Mike Sheridan of Janesville, Chris Sinicki and Tamara Grigsby of Milwaukee, Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie, Spencer Black, Teresa Berceau and Mark Pocan, all of Madison, Andy Jorgensen, of Fort Atkinson, Bob Turner of Racine, and Amy Sue Vruwink of Milladore.