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Educators sound off at Labor Fest | Business

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Educators sound off at Labor Fest
Educators sound off at Labor Fest

On their day off from work, that was the first thing on many people’s minds at Labor Fest. It was the biggest crowd Madison Teachers Inc. president John Matthews had ever seen at the event.

"What it means right here is community involvement," Matthews said. "There are a lot of people here that come here because they support unions, and they don't have a union or didn't have a union when they were working, but they understand the need."

It’s been a busy year for Matthews and his union. The state appealed a Dane County judge’s decision that called the law unconstitutional, and Matthews said oral arguments should begin in the state Supreme Court in November or December.

Additionally, Matthews said MTI has been negotiating with a new superintendent and reaching out to the district’s 250 new teachers to convinve them to support the spirit of Labor Fest.

“Unions have a place. We can provide equality at the bargaining table. We can provide adequate representation for people who are treated improperly,” Matthews said.

Among the educators in attendance were Charity Schmidt and Kaja Ebane. Both are earning their doctorate degrees at UW Madison and are active members of the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA).

Just like the other unions at Labor Fest, Schmidt, Ebane, and their organization fight for wage increases. Recently, TAA was able to get a 4.67% raise for all of the teaching assistants in the union without bargaining rights. However, Schmidt and Ebane are also thinking about their work prospects post-PHD and said the outlook does not look promising.

“Bleak is an understatement, to be honest,” Schmidt said.

“We've recently seen tenure track positions being replaced by adjundct labor with these very insecure kinds of jobs where people are scraping to get by,” Ebane said.

Schmidt said UW teaching assistants pocket less than $10,000 a year on average. On the heels of fast food workers walking out to demand living wage, both Schmidt and Ebane would like to see that level of pay apply to everyone on campus.

“It's not just about the money, and if it was, I probably would have gone to business school or stopped at my undergrad or something like that,” Ebane said. “But it's not just about the money. It's about doing work that's valuable to society and other people. But you still need to pay your rent.”

Schmidt added those employed as teaching assistants are paying more and more into their health insurance and segregated fees.

“We work for the university. I shouldn't have to pay, essentially, to have a job there,” Schmidt said.

Labor Fest was held at the Madison Labor Temple.

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