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A Brief History of Local 212

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) granted a charter to the Milwaukee Vocational Teachers’ Association, Local 212, on January 27, 1930. Several issues led to the teachers’ decision to unionize. All teachers put in long hours and could be fired without a hearing. Women teachers were paid less than men for comparable work. When they got married they were expected to quit and stay home, and if they got pregnant without being married they were looked on as moral degenerates and fired immediately. Teachers organized to have a voice regarding educational matters and their jobs. It took a lot of courage because they would have been fired if the effort failed. Early meetings were held secretly in the boiler room.

A major challenge to the union’s existence occurred in 1937 when acting Director William Rasche fired two senior instructors for their union activities and insubordination such as refusing to serve as elevator operators. At that time, only 50 out of 250 teachers were union members as many nonunion teachers had been bought off with larger raises. After a trial and student strike, the school board voted three to two to reinstate the terminated teachers. The right of teachers to unionize was largely ratified by this decision.

World War II and its aftermath was a period of growth for vocational education and MATC. The records indicate that the 1940’s and 1950’s were a time of relative harmony between school and union officials, as energies went into serving an increasingly larger student body and community seeking training programs for workers.

The next major challenge to the union’s existence occurred in 1968. Lack of good faith bargaining on the part of the district board led to a bitter twenty-eight school day strike in January of 1969. It was very controversial, but after all was said and done, the strike resulted in numerous long-lasting benefits that teachers did not have before. Teachers finally had access to the director and other administrators at monthly meetings. There were finally no more assignments to non-professional duties such as hall monitoring and punching a time clock. Contractual compensation and benefits went from being mediocre to probably the best in the state today.

Over eight decades of the union’s existence, there have been:

  • Nine school directors
  • Four different school names
  • The merger of the Cudahy, Port Washington and West Allis Vocational schools into MATC
  • Assimilation of other worker groups into the original local for full-time teachers
  • Takeover attempts by another teachers’ organization
  • A successful fair share vote
  • Acquisition of office space and staff
  • Numerous contractual and noncontractual disputes with school administrators

Through it all, vocational education has flourished and our local has grown from representing a handful of teachers to nearly 2,000 full and part-time instructors, as well as professional support staff.

You are a product of this history and must realize that favorable compensation, benefits, working conditions and job security enjoyed today are the product of your predecessors’ efforts and courage. Rather than be complacent, you must make your own history so as not to be a victim of it.