Governor signs historic labor in the schools bill

Governor Jim Doyle made it official Thursday, Dec. 10:  He signed into law AB 172, the Labor History in the Schools bill, culminating 12 years of efforts by key legislators, workers, unions and others to pass legislation to assure the teaching of labor history and collective bargaining.

More than 50 persons crowded into the governor’s conference room as he used four pens to sign the historic bill that will make the  teaching of labor history and collective bargaining part of the state’s standards for public schools in Wisconsin.

“Once again Wisconsin leads the way in progressive labor legislation,” commented Steve Cupery, president of the Wisconsin Labor History Society.  “As far as we can tell, Wisconsin is the first state to have enacted such a law.  We expect others will follow our example.”

John Wagnitz, on the staff of Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), said that the senator’s office has been getting inquiries from around the nation about the bill.   Sen. Hansen and Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Fort Atkinson) co-authored the bill.   It passed both houses of the legislature, with most Democrats in support, along with a few Republican members.  Much of the work in developing the current bill was done in the Assembly’s Committee on Labor, chaired by Rep. (and former school board member) Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee).

In signing the bill, Gov. Doyle cited the importance of elections to achieving legislative goals.  He recalled the lengthy effort to pass the bill, with it often passing one house of the legislature, and being stranded in the other.

He said for the first time in the last dozen years both houses of the Legislature, and the governor’s office, were  in control of Democrats, nearly all of whom support legislation calling for teaching of labor history and collective bargaining in the schools.

“I’m happy to sign this bill so that Wisconsin students understand how important the labor movement was in creating some of the most basic workplace rights that Wisconsin families enjoy today,” Governor Doyle said.

The Wisconsin Labor History Society has made the teaching of labor history in the schools one of its key objectives since its founding in 1981.  As early as 1985, the WLHS worked with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bert Grover to involve labor history in state instruction plans.

The long battle to pass legislation that urged the teaching of Labor History in the Schools began with a dedicated effort in the 1997-98 Legislative session when the first bill was introduced. 

To implement the new law, WLHS will assist teachers, school districts, parents and students in accessing materials that will provide information about union history and collective bargaining.

WLHS has established a curriculum committee, chaired by Jim Lorence, emeritus professor of history at UW-Marathon County, to work on providing additional materials to assist teachers and students to fulfill the purpose of the new law.

“We look forward to working with DPI on developing their materials for our public schools,” Cupery said.

The annual conference of the WLHS which will be held April 17, 2010 in Milwaukee will focus on providing both community and teacher support for implementing the new law. Membership in the WLHS will go toward supporting these efforts.

Also instrumental in attending hearings, offering testimony, making legislative contacts and doing other activities in support of the bill through the 12 years were:

Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, David Newby, president; Phil Neuenfeldt, secretary-treasurer; Joanne Ricca, legislative representative;

Members of the Wisconsin Labor History Society, for many years with leadership by Ken Germanson, president emeritus and more recently by President Steve Cupery

Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC);

Many of the state’s unions and members.

Background Legislative Action

On Tuesday, Oct. 27, the State Senate passed AB172 which calls for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to include the history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process in the state’s model academic standards for our schools. The bill passed on a vote of 20 – 12, including 17 Democrats and three Republicans voting “aye,” and 12 Republicans voting “no.”

Governor Jim Doyle has announced he will sign the bill at a ceremony in the State Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 10.  Officers and members of the Wisconsin Labor History Society are planning to be on hand.

Since the early 1990s, WLHS, the State AFL-CIO, Teamsters, WEAC and AFT have bee urging that the State mandate the teaching of labor history in the schools. While this measure provides no such mandates, it does require the State Superintendent to make the subject part of the state standards, and, as such, to provide assistance in teaching the subject.

Senators voting in favor of AB 172: Sens. Carpenter (D), Coggs (D), Cowles (R), Decker (D), Ellis (R), Erpenbach (D), Hansen (D), Holperin (D), Hopper (R), Jauch (D), Kreitlow (D), Lassa (D), Lehman (D), Miller (D), Plale (D), Risser (D), Robson (D), Sullivan (D), Taylor (D) and Wirch (D).

Senators voting against AB 172: Sens. Darling (R), Fitzgerald (R), Grothman (R), Harsdorf (R), Kanavas (R), Kapanke (R), Kedzie (R), Lasee (R), Lazich (R), Leibham (R), Olsen (R) and Schultz (R).

Absent: Sen. Vinehout (D)

The first major step occurred when the State Assembly on April 28 passed an amended version of AB172, the Labor History in the Schools bill, by a vote of 61-38. Ten Republicans joined all Democrats (except two) in supporting the bill. The amended version, which is expected to be considered by the State Senate in May, makes the teaching of labor history part of the model standards for the teaching of social studies in the  schools.  The amendment removed the original goal that would have required all school districts to include the teaching of the history of organized labor in America and the collective bargaining process.

The Assembly Labor Committee, under Chairperson Christine Sinicki (D-Milw.), passed AB 172 on April 16, after holding a hearing on Wednesday, April 8, with strong testimony in favor of the bill.  There were no persons who testified against the bill.

The bill was introduced by two of its authors, Sen. David Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Fort Atkinson), who gave strong endorsement of returning balance to our school curricula by providing more teaching of labor in the schools. Click here to see a video of the testimony on the Wisconsin Eye website.

The Bill, amended during the deliberations, modifies the Educational goals for the state’s schools to include the teaching of the history of organized labor in America and the collective bargaining process.

Both versions were discussed in a Senate Education Committee hearing on July 9.  Newly-elected President Steve Cupery and State AFL-CIO President David Newby both testified at the hearing, along with other supporters.  They both expressed support of the measures.  It is not known when the Committee will finally vote on the bills before moving it to the full Senate.  Click here to see video of Senate hearing of July 9.  The discussion about the bill is about 40 minutes into the video.

Click here for a fact sheet in PDF format.

12 years of effort finally pays off!

The long battle to pass legislation that urged the teaching of Labor History in the Schools began with a dedicated effort in the 1997-98 Legislative session when Sen. Russ Decker (D-Wausau) and then Rep. John Lehman (D-Racine) introduced SB182 requiring that Wisconsin schools teach labor history.  The bill passed the Senate then with a bipartisan vote of 25-7, but languished in the Assembly and died there.  At the same time, Rep. Lehman and then Sen. Kim Plache (D-Racine) also introduced a slightly different bill (AB 337) that failed in the Assembly.

The following session (1999-2000), Plache and Lehman introduced a similar bill (AB 130) which failed to pass the Assembly.

Lehman and Plache again sponsored a similar bill in the 2001-2002 session (AB 131), but it failed to get through the Republican-controlled Assembly.  Lehman and former State Sen. Kevin Shibilski (D-Stevens Point) introduced a similar measure (SB 235) that passed the State Senate with bipartisan support, 21-12, but it too died in the Assembly.

Rep. Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee) offered a new slant on the idea for the 2003-2004 Legislative Session, introducing AB 564 along with Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Plover).  Besides calling for teaching labor history in the schools, the bill proposed establishing a labor history license plate, with funds being raised to develop a labor tool kit for the schools.  Despite a well-attended hearing, the bill stalled in the Assembly.

In the 2007-2008 session, Sen. Hansen and Zepnick introduced SB 108 that passed in the Senate, but again died in the Assembly.

In the current session, the successful bill (AB 172) was passed by the Assembly Labor Committee, chaired by Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee).  AB 172 calls for the teaching of labor history and collective bargaining to be incorporated into DPI’s teaching model standards.  As such the bill requires the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (DPI) to follow through on assuring that labor history is included in instruction in the public schools.  AB 172 was introduced by Sen. Hansen and Rep. Jorgensen.

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