The newly formed labor union representing faculty at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point (UWSP), will make history when it charters with its national organization.
The Stevens Point Academic Representation Council (SPARC), will be the first union local to register under Governor Walker, whose term has been marred, in large part, by his controversial anti-union measures.
In order to become chartered as a union within the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT), SPARC had to meet specific membership requirements, create its constitution and elect officers.
Among other SPARC officers, Andy Felt and Tim Krause from the Department of Mathematical Sciences were elected President and Treasurer, respectively, and Nerissa Nelson from the UWSP Library was elected Secretary.
"Our main concern is the long-term health of this great institution," Felt said. "Right now, UWSP and the whole UW system is on life support, and Walker has his foot on the jugular. We’re standing as one for the students and public servants of this state."
In addition, Andy Held from the Academic Advising Center was elected as the Vice President for Membership Recruitment. Due to a recent membership drive, SPARC now represents over 200 UWSP faculty and a growing portion of its academic staff.
Jeremy Solin, who directs UWSP’s LEAF Forest Education Program, is a member of the academic staff who has not yet joined SPARC, but is looking forward to doing so.
"I think the union will play an important role in representing staff interests. We really have very little voice in any of the system right now," Solin said. "And, as we move to a more privatized model of higher education with lower public funding, it’s important that we have a voice through an organization that represents staff interests."
Students were enthusiastic about the formation of SPARC. "Being able to unionize is a basic human right. As outlined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, all persons have the freedom to unionize," said Junior Valerie Landowski, President of the UWSP United Nations Student Organization. "When Walker pushed through [the ban on collective bargaining], he not only attacked worker rights, but a fundamental right."
SPARC member Timothy Halkowski, Assistant Professor of Communication, noted the importance of shared interests between different groups in the university. "All the people who work at a University have a shared interest in the University being the best it can be."
"In addition, students (and their families, and all the citizens of the state) have a shared interest in the University being strong, vibrant and effective," Halkowski said. "Being unified in shared goals is crucial, while also remaining aware that differences between groups are valuable because those very differences provide useful glimpses into important topics that one or another group might be less able to see."
"We are committed to the interests of faculty, staff and students," said Nelson, who also stated that SPARC has begun working with bodies that represent students such as the United Council of UW Students.
"I think the faculty and academic staff need to work together with the students to create a change in attitude for this state," Felt said. "We need to invest more in education rather than less. UWSP is an economic engine for central Wisconsin."
"The rights of students and teachers are undeniably intertwined. In this economy, students are expected to give thousands of dollars they don’t have to a degree they can only hope will help them earn a decent wage," Landowski said. "Unionizing gives teachers the ability to say, ‘I am a teacher: I care about education, I care about my students, and I care about the future.’ That’s why they chose teaching as a vocation—not for the money, but because they want to make a difference in the lives of the youth."
Felt added, "Our economy is puttering along, and we’re cutting the gas to the engine. It’s not smart."
"We cannot build our future on sand, we need unions and we need the voices of teachers to be heard," Landowski said.