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UW-Madison Teaching Assistants' Association lays off staff, blames changes from Act 10
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The Teaching Assistants' Association at UW-Madison has informed members that its staff will be laid off due to hardships resulting from Gov. Scott Walker's 2011 collective bargaining law.

"This decision was made purely out of financial necessity, as we now live in a reality without fair share dues," union co-presidents Matt Reiter and Charity Schmidt wrote in an email Monday.

Before Act 10, all teaching assistants at UW-Madison were represented by the union -- whether they wanted to be or not -- and had dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. Now, members don't have to join to be represented by the union, and the union is no longer able to withdraw dues through members' paychecks.

"It makes a huge difference," says Schmidt in an interview.

Union membership has since dwindled. Schmidt says the union currently has about 650 members, down from 2,000 before Walker took office.

Two longtime staff members will lose their jobs as a result. Schmidt says their hours had already been cut, but the union continued to pay their full benefits.

"It came down to a choice of becoming a terrible employer or letting the staff go," she says. "They are an invaluable part of everything we do. It's going to have a huge impact on the union."

Schmidt says her members have taken many hits in recent years, from increased health care costs to higher segregated student fees. Their compensation is also lower than at most other Big 10 schools, she adds.

In response, the union has launched a petition campaign demanding a raise. In just five days, 400 people have sent letters to Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell, says Schmidt. The letter reads in part, "Graduate employees do the bulk of instruction on campus, in addition to working as irreplaceable research and project assistants -- for much less than the cost of full-time faculty. Despite the value we add to the UW, our take-home pay has fallen almost $1,600 (inflation-adjusted) in the last decade. Tell the administration: pay us back!"

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