The fight to organize teachers in small-town Wisconsin

In 1974, the population of Hortonville, Wisconsin, was around 1,500, and yet it became the site of one of the most contentious and consequential teachers’ strikes in the state’s history. In the end, over 80 striking educational staff members in the Hortonville district were fired by an intransigent school board, and the strike itself ripped the community in two. With teachers and their supporters on one side and a virulently anti-union school board, local police, and townspeople opposed to the strike on the other side, things got very ugly in Hortonville, and the legacy of the broken ‘74 strike left a deep scar on the town and the district for many years. Nearly 50 years after the Hortonville strike and 10 years after the passing of Act 10 under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, which was a hammer blow to public sector unions around the state, teachers in Hortonville are facing increased workloads, lower take-home pay, difficulties retaining educational staff, and greater obstacles to union organizing.

As part of a special collaboration with In These Times magazine for The Wisconsin Idea, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez traveled to Wisconsin with Cameron Granadino (TRNN) and Hannah Faris (In These Times) to speak with teachers and organizers around the state about how Act 10 impacted their lives and work, and how they are rebuilding out of the rubble. In this interview, recorded at their home in Hortonville, Alvarez speaks with Amanda and Jeff Frenkel, two K-12 educators and organizers with the American Federation of Teachers who are fighting to rebuild the union in Hortonville and use the tools available to them to improve working conditions in the district.

CORRECTION 12/6/21: Amanda Frenkel is identified in this video as “High School Teacher & AFT Organizer” but should be identified as “Elementary School Teacher & AFT Organizer.”

Read the transcript of this interview:

Pre-Production: Maximillian Alvarez, Hannah Faris, Alice Herman, Cameron Granadino, Eleni Schirmer (research consultant), John Fleissner (research consultant), John Yaggi (research consultant), Harvey J. Kaye (research consultant), Jon Shelton (research consultant), Adam Mertz (research consultant)
Studio: Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino, Stephen Frank, Kayla Rivara

The Wisconsin Idea is an independent reporting project of People’s Action Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and In These Times.

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** (Disclaimer: This video content is intended for educational and informational purposes only) **

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Author: phillyfinest369


18 thoughts on “The fight to organize teachers in small-town Wisconsin

  1. Act 10 eliminated the stunning conflict of interest that had the unions (who overwhelmingly support Democrats) negotiating long term sweetheart benefits contracts for their members (who overwhelmingly vote Democrat) with WI State agencies and law makers (also mostly Democrat at the time) and specified by law to be provided by insurance companies owned by the unions themselves. With the taxpayers spectating from the sidelines. Basically two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.

    Act 10 allowed districts, who vary immensely in size and tax base to avoid the one size fits all budget line item and shop around for competitive benefits packages that better suited their situations.

  2. I hear people complaining about teachers only working part of the year and they should have to work the whole year. I don't think that many teacher's are opposed to year-round school with breaks between the quarters. The summer break was to accommodate family farming businesses, which are nearly non-existent thanks to factory farming undercutting most them.

  3. Anyone who feels their job is too stressful should join the military…You will do more by 8 am than most people do all day.. frequent deployments and field training exercises…12, 16 and 24 hrs work schedules, including weekends and holidays…rain,, sleet or snow…with no union or extra pay…

  4. Walker et al, with an avalanche of outside deep right support – Koch brothers stuff – determined to make WI a national example of union busting, simply trotted out the oldest trick in the Rich Man’s book, dressed in ‘Murican rhetoric: to keep the prols from aiming their sense of bitterness and betrayal at their REAL enemy, find a way to get ‘em to blame one another. Any oligarch worth her ill-gotten fortune knows that, once you get that dynamic in play, draped in the appropriate flag, you can actually get the victims of a patently unjust economic system to vote against their own interest , and against one another, time and time again.
    Why do you think unions have nearly been wiped from the face of American politics? Because “Union bad! Union bad! Union bad!….?”
    On the contrary, because unions – flawed as many may be – with their power to wield the formidable weapon of the strike, and the worker/community solidarity the best of them engender, are the death knell of elitist power and the economic inequality it’s built on.
    Look at the actual history of this country and you’ll quickly see that nearly every social benefit we enjoy in our work lives was handed down to us by ordinary men and women banded together in unions putting it all on the line – the picket line – for one another, and for us.
    In recent years, hands down, it’s teachers’ unions that have picked up the torch and led the way.

  5. Teachers' unions have alienated parents, their most important constituency, by pushing vaccine lockdowns and racially divisive curricula.

  6. The teachers should just start a zoom online teaching business or touring and make money that way. The people will learn one way or another to pay them a fair wage.

  7. Teachers need the power to forbid problem students they think are dangerous from the school.
    Teachers are the witnesses and are usually ignored.

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