By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President
Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association President Kim Schroeder told me that strength of the MTEA comes down to two things: “member involvement and members who are ready to act.”
“Our members understand that the union is them,” Kim said.
This was demonstrated clearly this spring as the MTEA asked members to join together in opposition to budget cuts in the Milwaukee Public Schools. Members and supporters turned out in large numbers at school board meetings and to picket in front of the Milwaukee Public Schools Administration building.
Amy Mizialko, Vice President of the MTEA, echoed Kim’s sentiment as she said, “We are constantly pushing and asking our members to do more. We have decided, in this environment, we never give up on each other or on our profession, and we will not quit on our students.”
Ultimately, this approach was successful in creating a budget that put the needs of students and educators first.
I asked these leaders about MTEA success stories, and Kim said, “Our beating back of the MPS school takeover after it passed into law was one of our successes. It was our members at each building who stood up and said, ‘You’re not taking my building.’ The communities surrounding these schools stood against the takeover and, ultimately, the number of schools taken over in MPS was zero. This victory showed our members, the community, and our parents that when we stand up, we can win.”
Amy said, “Wisconsin educators are writing labor history. Scott Walker doesn’t write the last chapter. We write the last chapter with our parents, our students, our members, and our community.”
Amy shared another victory which happened a year ago when the Milwaukee Public Schools became a sanctuary school district for undocumented students and their families. She said, “It was a proud moment when the MTEA, MPS administration, and the school board declared solidarity with our undocumented students and their families after hearing over two and a half hours of student testimony.”
When I asked about their advice to leaders who are struggling, Kim pointed out, “There are activists in every local and every building. You have to find them and help them to build a team. As a local president, you can’t do it alone. You also can’t be afraid to fail sometimes. Everything that we try doesn’t work, but we learn from it and move on.”
In Milwaukee, there are 137 buildings, and the MTEA is working to locate activists in every building and train them to be leaders in their local. “We are the only organization in this city fighting for the public schools that all of our students deserve,” Kim said.
Amy’s advice: “The MTEA never fights and wins alone. When we fight and win, it is with our local coalition of Schools and Communities United who has grown to become a mighty force in Milwaukee.”
The MTEA has worked closely with many community groups and community partners on behalf of students and families. These partnerships have helped them to create powerful coalitions and, as Amy said, “United, we fight and win.”
Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.